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1. An extract from Sentimental Education written by Gustave Flaubert, 1869

Bowls of coffee were being served in a Little room on the ground floor. Some of the visitors sat down to table merrily; others remained standing. A cabman among the latter seized a jar full of soft sugar with both hands, gave an uneasy glance to right and left, and then began to eat voraciously , plunging his nose into the pot. At the foot of the great staircase a man was writing his name in a book. Frederic recognized him from behind.

“Well - Hussonnet!”

“Why, yes,” answered the journalist. “I’m presenting myself at court. This is a good joke, isn’t it?” And they entered the Hall of the Marshals. The portraits of these worthies were intact, except for Bugeaud, who had been pierced through the stomach. The marshals were pictured leaning on their sabres, with gun carriages in the background, in attitudes of menace, little suited to the present juncture. A large clock pointed to twenty past one.

Suddenly the Marseillaise rang out. Hussonnet and Frederic leaned over the banisters. It was people.

The mob surged up the staircase in a swirling stream of bare heads, helmets, caps of liberty, waving bayonets, and heaving shoulders. So violent was their onrush that people vanished in the swarming mass; on and on they climbed, like a springtide sweeping up a river, driven forward by an irresistible impulse, with a continuous roar. At the top they scattered an the singing ceased.

Nothing could be heard but the trampling of feet and the babble of voices. The harmless crowd was content to stare. But from time to time an elbow, cramped for space, burst through a window; sometimes a vase or a statuette rolled off a side table on to the ground. The paneling creaked under the pressure of the throng. Sweat trickled down their red faces in large drops; Hussonnet remarked: “I don’t cara much for the smell of heroes.”

“Oh, you annoy me,” said Frederic.

Pushed along helplessly, the entered a room in which a red velvet canopy was stretched across the ceiling. On the throne beneath sat a workman with a black beard, his shirt half open, grinning stupidly, like an ape. Others climbed on to the dais to sit in his place.

“What a legend!” said Hussonnet. “The sovereignty of the people!”

Outstretched arms lifted the arm-chair an passed it, swaying, right across the room.

“Good Lord! See how it rocks! The ship of state is being tossed in a stormy sea! It’s dancing a jig! It’s dancing a jig!”

It was taken to a window and thrown out, amid hisses.

“Poor old thing!” said Hussonnet, as he watched it fall into the garden, where it was soon picked up to be carried in procession to the Bastille and afterwards burced.

There followed a burst of frantic joy, as though the throne had been replaced by a future of unlimited happiness; and the people, less out of vengeance than from a desire to assent their mastery, broke and tore down mirrors, curtains, chandeliers, sconces, tables, chairs, stools – everything movable, down to albums of drawings and work baskets. They had conquered, therefore they should celebrate. In mockery, the rabble draped themselves in lace and cashmere. Gold fringes were wound about the sleeves of blouses, hats with ostrich plumes decked the heads of blacksmiths, ribbons of the Legion of Honour made sashes for prostitutes. Each man satisfied his whim; some danced, others drank. In the queen’s room a woman was greasing her hair with pomade. Two enthusiast were playing cards behind a screen; Hussonnet pointed out to Frederic a man leaning on a balcony, smoking his clay pipe; and, amid the general fury, the ball re-echoed to the crash of china and the shattering of glass; and the fragments of crystal tinkled as they fell, like the keys of a harmonica.

Then their frenzy took a darker turn. In obscene curiosity they ransacked the cupboards and closets, and turned out all the drawers. Jail-birds thrust their arms into the princesses’ bed and rolled on top of it, as a consolation for not being able to rape them. Sinister characters wandered silently about, searching for something to steal; but the crowd was too numerous. Looking through the doorways, down the long series of rooms, one could see nothing but a dark mass of people in a cloud of dust between the gilded walls. They were oil out of breath; the heat became more and more stalling; and two friends went out, to avoid being suffocated.

In the vestibule, on a pile of clothes, stood a prostitute, posed as a statue of Liberty, motionless, with staring eyes – a figure of terror.

They were only just outside when a troop of Municipal Guards in overcoats came towards them. The guards took off their policemen’s caps, revealing their somewhat build heads, and bowed very low to the people. The ragged victors were enchanted with this sign of respect. Not were Hussonnet and Frederic entirely displeased by the spectacle.

They were burning with excitement. They went back to the Palais-Royal. At the opening of the rue Fromanteau the corpses of soldiers were piled up on straw. They passed there without emotion, and even took a pride in their imperturbability.

The palace was crammed with people. Seven bonfires were blazing in the inner court. Pianos, chests of drawers, and clocks were being flung out of the windows. Fire-pumps were throwing water up to the roof. Some hooligans tried to cut the hoses with their sabers. Frederic urged an artillery cadet to intervene. The cadet did not understand; he seemed to be half-witted. All round, in the two arcades, the mob, having broken open the cellars, were abandoning themselves to a horrible debsurb. Wine flowed in streams and wetted their feet; there were ruffians drinking out of the heels of broken bottles, and shooting as they reeled.

“Let’s go,” said Hussonnet. “I find your friends the people revolting.”

All along the Orleans gallery the wounded were lying on mattresses on the ground, with purple curtains for blankets, while the wives of the local tradesmen brought them soup and clean linen.

“No matter!” said Frederic. “To my mind, the people are sublime!”

The great hall was filled with an angry swarming crowd; some tried to climb to the higher floors to complete the work of destruction; a few National Guards on the steps struggled to bold them black the boldest of the guards was a hare-headed rifleman, with tousled hair and tattered belt. His shirt was bulging out between his trousers and his coat, and he fought desperately beside his comrades. Hussonnet, who had very long sight, recognized Arnoux in the distance.

Then they went into the Tuileries garden, where they could breathe more freely. They sank down on a bench; and sat for some minutes with their eyes shut, so dead-beat that they had not the strength to speak. Around them, passers-by were meeting and talking. The Duchesse d’Orleans had been nominated regent; it was all over; and every one felt that sense of satisfaction that follows the rapid solution of a crisis. Suddenly servants appeared at all the top floor windows of the palace; they turn up their liveries as a sign of renunciation. The people booed them. They withdrew.

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Source: Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, 1869. Editions Gallimard, Folio classique, 1965, pp. 317 et sq. Translated by Robert Baldick, Penguin Books, 1964. http://books.google.fr/books?id=x4fX_9zMJ24C&printsec=frontcover&dq=flaubert+sentimental+education&so
The Throne Room in the Tuileries (1848) Click image to enlarge
Source: A lithograph by V. Adam and J. Arnout, The Throne Room in the Tuileries (1848), BNF, Paris.


  1. How does Flaubert present, in a show-like, the revolutionary event in this extract from The Sentimental Education?
  2. How are the people described? What is the crowd compared to? Who seized the palace? Justify your answer quoting relevant passages.
  3. What conflicting judgments of the people does the text bring out?
  4. What are the elements that refer to the French Revolution in Flaubert’s text and the lithograph?

Display teacher's view to find the answers.

Presentation and analysis of the historical context

The interrelation between the individual destiny of Frederic Moreau and the historical dimension urged Flaubert to sketch “the moral destiny of a generation” of young people who in 1848 were in their twenties. Emotional illusions gave way to compromises and mediocrity. The Sentimental Education is also a study of the middle class during Louis-Philippe’s reign.

In this extract, which is taken from the first chapter of the third part of the novel, Frederic Moreau, the “hero”, and his friend Hussonet attend the plundering of Tuileries Palace after Louis-Philippe took flight on Thursday, 24 February. This text turns the historical event into a show where the two men enjoy themselves commenting on things happening around them. Flaubert intertwines tragedy with ludicrous farce. The people have the leading role. After the crowd’s entrance announced by the Marseillaise, characters are introduced. The “red velvet canopy” reminds of theatre curtains, raised to reveal a stage symbolized by a platform where the throne is. As in theatre, actors are dressed up; we whistle and bow (Question 1).

Flaubert stages “the ferocious vitality of a small group, depicting a short moment: the historical event of a happy victory of people, sublime and repulsing at the same time...However, several witnesses report the amazing male overall outfit: most of the insurgents would have helped a lot to protect the palace’s possessions...The working-class patrol even fired at red-handed pillagers...A new system of symbols emerged on the day when the royal throne was cremated: as the “mob” enjoyed themselves, a few men brought the royal seat out and took it to the Bastille where it was symbolically burned. Numerous observers of the event saw this episode as a substantial breaking off with the Second Republic: as the king can’t be killed, they symbolically removed him from his post by burning his august seat...” (In Maurizio Gribaudi, Michèle Riot-Sarcet, op. cite, pp. 48 et sq.).

Taking over the Tuileries Palace, the people are compared to a “repressed river” which is sweeping up, spreading, going down, swarming and whose “dizzy flood” sweeps up everything on its way. The long howling echoes the crash and the flood’s roar, expressing the release of a discontent that had been repressed (Question 2).

The people, who were singing La Marseillaise at the beginning of the story, rush and go up like a river before bursting out with happiness when they take possession of the places which symbolize the deposed royal power. The people become a “dark mass” with an “obscene curiosity”. The enthusiasm is followed by heavy and stifling atmosphere: “then the fury becomes gloomy”. The image of the popular triumph is transformed in the cellars, in the scenes of heavy drinking where wine, which is “flowing freely”, contrasts with blood of those injured in February. After the ironic remark of Hussonet: “The heroes don’t smell good!”, the two members of the audience are stuck between horror and fascination: “these people disgusts me”, “Whatever! Says Frederic, I do think they are sublime”. The people described by Flaubert are “ragged victorious” sovereigns and also a “staggering noisy mob”.

Frederic, the Fluabert’s “hero”, can’t take part in the collective event without being a spectator and this could be compared to Baudelaire’s lines: “For three days, Parisians have been admiring physical beauty. They have stayed up at night, so they must be exhausted but the feeling of winning their rights back makes them very proud of themselves. Enthusiasm and republican pride lit up their faces... Every free man is more beautiful than marble and a dwarf is no worse than a giant when he holds his head high and cherishes his citizen rights in his heart.” (Charles Baudelaire, “La beauté du peuple” in Œuvres complètes, tome II, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, p. 1032). (Question 3).

Flaubert’s text recalls the French revolution. It is constantly refers to the event from the past:

  • the Marseillaise sung by the crowd who where entering the Tuileries, which was taken over on 10 August 1792;
  • the “red hats” worn by some men;
  • the Bastille where the throne was burned.

The two tricolor cockades and the two Phrygian caps are elements of the lithograp referring to the French Revolution (Question 4).


http://flaubert.univ-rouen.fr/biographie/ This academic website gives chronologies, biographies, texts and articles on Gustave Flaubert’s works.