Life lessons – 10 to 12: French literature – what can we learn?

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In the era of constant barrage and chatter about ‘mindfulness’ and ‘self-development’ I decided to dig deep and see what we could learn from our elders in classic French Literature. 

As a lover of the classics of French literature I found myself wondering:

What can we learn and apply to life today from the characters we love and feel that we know so well.”

Welcome to part four of French Literature life lessons! This section is based on Gustave Flaubert’s Les trois contes’ and what life lessons we can learn from the main characters: Félicité, Julien, and Hérodias.

10. Life lessons: Félicité – Don’t let other people take you for granted

MyFrenchLife™ - - French Literature - Life Lessons - numbers 10-12Labelled as the ‘simple heart’ in ‘Un cœur simple’, Félicité is a young, naïve servant girl. Félicité is beyond kind and tries to see the best in everyone she meets.

Her first encounter with love falls flat when she is left for a lady of superior class. Félicité has no backlash against this, simply continuing with her life without question.

Working for Mme Aubain and her family, she devotes her life to her work as their servant, succumbing to a simplistic life.

Félicité’s adoration for the family she works for causes her to risk her life for them, standing in front of a bull to protect them.

When both children must leave the family home, her sadness is far greater than of that of their mother – Mme Aubain.

Her life appears almost empty without them. Félicité has no incredible adventure in her life, but remains loyal until the end.

What life lessons can we learn from Félicité?

  • Let’s always remain loyal to our family and loved ones
  • Let’s never let anyone take advantage of this loyalty
  • Let’s always stand up for what we believe in
  • Let’s not let people walk over us
  • Let’s always try and see the best in people
Time to read?  Buy here:
In English
En français 

11. Life lessons: Julien – Kindness will prevail in the end

From the start of Julien’s life in ‘La Légende de Saint-Julien l’Hospitalier’, his parents are told he is destined for greatness. He’s the apple of his parent’s eye.

But Julien comes to learn that expectations and reality are two different things. His actions lead to a curse to teach him a lesson about his cruelty. The curse condemns him to kill his own parents.

MyFrenchLife™ - - French Literature - Life Lessons - numbers 10-12

The torturous acts Julien commits are almost evil, narrowly avoiding killing his parents on two occasions. Julien decides on self-banishment to escape his curse.

Julien’s self-exile is not successful. He ends up murdering his parents as they sleep in his wife’s bed.

At the end of Julien’s life, he comes across a leper. By giving everything Julien owns to the leper, his final scenes of kindness grant Julien’s passage into heaven.

What life lessons can we learn from Julien?

  • Let’s not put huge expectations on our loved ones
  • Let’s try our best to always stay kind, to strangers as well as our family
  • Let’s think of others before ourselves
  • Let’s always make an effort to consider the consequences of our actions
Time to read?  Buy here:
In English and En français

 12. Life lessons: Hérodias – Never succumb to revenge or manipulation

MyFrenchLife™ - - French Literature - Life Lessons - numbers 10-12The tale of ‘Hérodias’ begins at the birthday of Herod, who has condemned Iaokannan to prison for claiming that Herod’s marriage with Hérodias is incestuous.

Hérodias uses her own daughter, Salomé, to secretly plot and kill Iaokannan.

Hérodias makes Salomé wear inappropriate clothing in front of many people, including her own father, forcing her to dance.

Salomé’s dancing wins the heart of her father, causing him to fall in love with her. As a result of his love, Herod promises Salomé anything she wants.

She demands the head of Iaokannan as her prize, just as her mother had wished for.

What life lessons can we learn from Hérodias?

  • Family is important and let’s never use it to our own advantage like Hérodias
  • Let’s never underestimate the strength of others, male or female
  • Let’s never become obsessed with serving justice – this isn’t our job
  • Let’s never let anger, jealousy, or revenge get the better of us
Time to read?  Buy here

What do you think of Flaubert’s characters? Do you think they teach us life lessons? We’d love to hear your comments in the box below.

Image credits

  1. La lectrice by Sylvain Courant via flickr
  2. Gustave Flaubert via Wikipedia
  3. Julien l’Hospitalier via Wikipedia
  4. Hérodias via Wikipedia

Learn more from French literature: the characters in the classics we know well

Life lessons 1-3:
Emma Bovary  I  Gustave Flaubert  I  Marcel Proust  I  Guy de Maupassant

Life lessons 4-6:
Madame Rênal   |    Candide    |    Mâtho

Life lessons 7-9:
Lamiel   |   Madame Taillefer   |  Dr.Rieux

– This article –
Life lessons 10-12:
 Félicité   |   Julien   |    Hérodias

About the Contributor

Jessica Rushton

I'm a final year French student at University of Nottingham. I am passionate about French literature, in particular nineteenth-century French novels and love escaping to Paris for chocolat chaud. Follow me: my year abroad bloginstagram & twitter!

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