flaubert’s sentimental education

Young Farmers 490x300Michael Wood at Lapham's Quarterly:

While Sentimental Education provides the requisite arcs and twists of a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age novel, and a story of a Young Man from the Provinces, it also questions the assumptions of each, asking if any of these stories quite leads to where it is supposed to go. This is to say that we are invited to explore the realm of what Balzac calls illusions and Flaubert calls sentiments, where ambition and fantasy are rampant and sometimes fulfilled, where cynical advice passes as sagacity. It is the realm of what we think we know—what some of us are sure we know—but where none of us is always right. In other words, the world we enter in adolescence and rarely ever leave. The trouble with the place is that although it provides unheard-of opportunities, it offers no guarantee in individual cases. This is as true for bad news as it is for good. If so many European novels seem to know that things will not end well, they know this for sure only because they are novels, because the choice of endings belongs to the author, not to chance or history. What the novels and the authors know beneath their plots, or inside of them, is that almost anything can happen; that the difference between a successful plan and an aberrant fantasy can’t be told until the game is completely over.

more here.