For MODL 5304, I had the pleasure of assigning and rereading Flaubert’s The Sentimental Education (1869), which I had read as an undergraduate at the University of California Santa Cruz in the late eighties or early nineties. I did not remember the novel in much detail but it helped me become passionate about nineteenth-century studies, even inspired me. I had great professors at UCSC, and as I reread Flaubert, I kept on thinking about my European history professors there, Bruce Thompson and Jonathan Beecher. They taught me so much. If I could, I would take classes with them again!
I feel for my students. It was not easy to read 400+ pages in one week (to be fair to myself, I did warn my students in advance about not leaving it for the week before class). But I have to say it was a pleasure to immerse myself into the world of Frederic Moreau and Madame Arnoux. Reading vast novels like The Sentimental Education allows us to enter a different world and live with interesting people for a stretch of time. What might be tough about this novel, in particular, is that its characters are not very admirable. And yet, Flaubert’s creations are painfully familiar and human, like past versions of ourselves. I plead guilty to having been as foolish as Frederic in my own life, especially as an overly enthusiastic undergraduate student living wastefully off of his parents’ money. Was it necessary to eat out so much when I was a freshman? I doubt it. Anyway, there was something familiar about watching Frederic hang with all of his pals; it reminded me of the peculiar group of characters I hung out with in college. We were all so enthusiastic and full of life, so full of grandilocuent notions about everything and, sometimes, full of crap as well.
I’m glad I assigned this novel for MODL 5304. It was nice to go back for a little while at least.