Flaubert, Sand and A Sentimental Education


Frederick expected that he would have felt spasms of joy; but the passions grow pale when we find ourselves in an altered situation; and, as he no longer saw Madame Arnoux in the environment wherein he had known her, she seemed to him to have lost some of her fascination; to have degenerated in some way that he could not comprehend—in fact, not to be the same. He was astonished at the serenity of his own heart.

  • Flaubert, A Sentimental Education


Despite its towering reputation as one of the greatest books ever written, I didn’t get along with A Sentimental Education when I tried reading it roughly a decade ago. The story of a thoughtful young man -Frédéric Moreau – living through the revolution of 1848 and founding of the Second French Empire grated on me, Frédéric’s musings romantic, often over the top.

While I have a high threshold for much Victorian sentimental writing, I found this book barely readable. It’s possible I read it at the wrong time, that whatever was happening in my life made it difficult to settle in properly and pay due attention. Should I give it another try? I wouldn’t have considered it until, perusing the most recent issue of the Literary Review, I stumbled upon a mention of a new book about this novel, as well as Flaubert’s relationship with writer George Sand.

The book argues for the importance of Flaubert’s book, its place in the literary canon, and the relationship between these two authors. My experience with George Sand has been more limited than with Flaubert; I’ve read only her Indiana. I admit I found it less than riveting. I knew of her friendship – and correspondence – with Flaubert, even owned a volume of their letters, but got no further than that.


Basic Books – 27 April 2017


I hadn’t realized Flaubert considered  A Sentimental Education his monumental achievement, nor that it was a critical flop on publication. I’ve read and re-read Madame Bovary, a story I vastly prefer to his exploration of the French philosophical and political climate during one of the most tumultuous times in its history. To be honest, that interests me very little; it’s Emma Bovary who moves me.

There’s some high-flown language in Madame Bovary, as well, but its storyline and characters make for more conventional fiction. If I can’t engage in the story, I can’t engage with the book. Nevertheless, Peter Brooks’ book caught my eye. It promises to challenge my belief about A Sentimental Education, arguing why it is, in fact, an important book.

A lifetime student of literature, I’m bothered I haven’t developed an appreciation of Flaubert’s masterpiece. I know I’m missing something. Added to that, Brooks’ book promises deeper study about the personal relationship between Flaubert and Sand. Even if I don’t have a lot of background reading their work, I know their reputations. I love reading about the inter-connectedness of great writers, how each influences the other.

It’s unlikely I’ll re-read A Sentimental Education anytime soon. Still, it’s good knowing if I should find myself hankering to try the French classic again, there’s a literary expert who’ll hold my hand.


New books about Austen, Woolf and the Brontës


2017: A Year of Literary Nonfiction Celebrating British Women Writers

Hat tip to nonfiction scribblers assiduously churning out new literary biographies and criticism about these iconic female authors each and every year. Convinced surely there could be no new angle, I’m always pleasantly surprised when out pops a new one. Wherever this New Idea Generator is located, long may it churn.

Possible candidate: New Idea Generator

Common sense dictates at some future point original topics will be exhausted, until and unless something radically new is found in someone’s trunk or attic. Surely there’s a saturation point? But who am I to say. Keep ’em coming as long as possible. With the 200 year anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth last year, and 200th of not just Austen’s death but also the publication of her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey this year, it’s a veritable bumper crop of delicious nonfiction titles. All the better.

I’ve long dreamed of the existence of an undiscovered Austen manuscript. Ditto the Brontës. Pry up those floorboards in the Haworth parsonage! There just may be something squirreled away.

New titles stretch out as far as early 2018, I’ve found via a few searches on Amazon. No doubt more are lurking past that. Certainly enough new stuff to keep devotees busy for quite some time.

I bought this one a couple of weeks ago. I’m currently reading and enjoying it very much:

Austen, Brontë and Woolf, oh my!

A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney
Aurum Press
1 June 2017

And here are some of the others I’ve found whilst rooting around:

General works on female writers of the period

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World by Lyndall Gordon
19 Oct 2017


Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature by Shelley DeWees
Harper Perennial
12 Jan 2017

Virginia Woolf

Walking Virginia Woolf’s London by Lisbeth Larrson
Palgrave Macmillan
10 Aug. 2017



Virginia Woolf: A Portrait by Woodring, Forrester and Gladding
Columbia University Press
January 2018 – paperback release

An explosion of Austen!

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
Icon Books Ltd
1 Jun. 2017



Jane Austen at Home: A Biography
by Lucy Worsley
Hodder & Stoughton
18 May 2017


The Genius of Jane Austen by Paula Byrne
William Collins
18 May 2017

Four Austen tiles I’ll be reviewing

Biteback Publishing
25 May 2017
(Currently Reading)


Jane Austen: Writer in the World by Kathryn Sutherland
Bodleian Library
16 June 2017



Jane Austen: Illustrated Quotations
Bodleian Library
3 July 2017



Jane Austen: The Chawton Letters by Kathryn Sutherland
Bodleian Library
29 September 2017


And the Brontës

Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis
Chatto & Windus
12 Jan 2017



The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece by John Pfordresher
WW Norton
5 Aug 2017


This is the point at which I make you particularly envious: at the end of this month my favorite Scottish host and I will be taking a journey south of the border to England, where we’ll visit various sites related to these three beloved writers. Five, actually, if you count the other two Brontë sisters Anne and Emily. Mea culpa.

When I have the full list of places we plan to visit (the Scot has that, but he’s in the other room and I cannot be bothered) I’ll post that here. Once I’ve returned, of course I’ll have photos along with excessive, likely rather purple verbiage to share.

Between now and then, I plan to finish as many of the review titles as possible. At the very least, I need to brush up on basic biographical facts about each of the ladies. I posted a few times about the Brontës last year: here, here, here and here. For Woolf, I posted most recently about her shorter fiction. Here’s a post about Woolf and the Brontës, a double-header. As for Austen, aside from some very insubstantial posts, I read Rachel Brownstein’s Why Read Jane Austen? back in 2012, enjoying it immensely.

I’m looking forward to hanging out with these literary ladies this summer, back to Victorian and early 20th century writing. It’s been too long.