100 books like Sentimental Education

By Gustave Flaubert, Helen Constantine (translator), Patrick Coleman (editor)

Here are 100 books that Sentimental Education fans have personally recommended if you like Sentimental Education. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Les Misérables

Richard Goodman Author Of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France

From my list on 19th century French novels.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a Francophile for as long as I can remember. Something about France and French literature grabbed me by the heart when I was a young man and continues to do so. I’ve lived in France twice–a year each time–and have written about those experiences in books and essays. It’s 19th-century French literature that especially draws me and has deeply influenced my own writing.  

Richard's book list on 19th century French novels

Richard Goodman Why did Richard love this book?

We all know the title. It’s become a record-breaking musical phenomenon. The book is a phenomenon in itself. It was a voyage I took for a few spellbound weeks, and I read it in a stone house in a small village in the South of France. It is a book of great sympathy and grace. 

Victor Hugo’s heart is large—at least measured by this story of an escaped prisoner who tries to do good with his life but is pursued relentlessly by a police officer, Javert. I found with this book, as the great writers always show me, that character is all. Hugo drew me into the struggles and losses of his people so ably and memorably that I still think of them years later. 

By Victor Hugo, Lee Fahnestock (translator), Norman Macafee (translator)

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Les Misérables as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW A SIX-PART MINISERIES ON MASTERPIECE ON PBS

The only completely unabridged paperback edition of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece—a sweeping tale of love, loss, valor, and passion.

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.

Within his dramatic story…


Book cover of The Red and the Black

Richard Goodman Author Of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France

From my list on 19th century French novels.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a Francophile for as long as I can remember. Something about France and French literature grabbed me by the heart when I was a young man and continues to do so. I’ve lived in France twice–a year each time–and have written about those experiences in books and essays. It’s 19th-century French literature that especially draws me and has deeply influenced my own writing.  

Richard's book list on 19th century French novels

Richard Goodman Why did Richard love this book?

I read this book years ago in high school, and my eyes were opened. The hero, Julien Sorel, is—like I was when I read the novel—naïve, confused, trusting, inexperienced, and prone to awkwardness and error. In short, I could relate to someone in circumstances (boarding school!) where I desperately needed someone who was highly imperfect with whom I could identify.

It might have been the first time I read an adult book where I felt I might actually meet the main character one day, walking down the street or even in the hallway.

By Stendhal,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Red and the Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Traces the ascent and descent of a young, aspirational social climber in a harsh, monarchical country.

Julien Sorel, a handsome and aspirational man, is determined to overcome his lowly provincial upbringing. He soon realises that the only way to succeed is to follow the sophisticated code of hypocrisy that governs society, so he starts to progress by lying and self-interest. His successful job leads him into the centre of glitzy Parisian society, where he triumphs over the proud Mathilde and the kind, married Madame de Rênal. Then, though, Julien commits a shocking, terrible crime—leading to his own demise. In The…


Book cover of L'Assommoir

Richard Goodman Author Of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France

From my list on 19th century French novels.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a Francophile for as long as I can remember. Something about France and French literature grabbed me by the heart when I was a young man and continues to do so. I’ve lived in France twice–a year each time–and have written about those experiences in books and essays. It’s 19th-century French literature that especially draws me and has deeply influenced my own writing.  

Richard's book list on 19th century French novels

Richard Goodman Why did Richard love this book?

I read this book many years ago, and it’s never left me. This was my first exposure in literature to the harsh lives some people must live. It seems a bit strange to me that it was a French novel published in 1877 that opened my eyes, but there you are.

You can feel the sweat, exhaustion, and desperation of this fated Parisian laundress, Gervaise, as she tries to rise above her situation, only to be tragically brought down by the men in her life. Zola’s writing is often categorized as naturalism, but I think "truth" is more accurate.

By Émile Zola, Brian Nelson (translator), Robert Lethbridge (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked L'Assommoir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

b 'in this life, even if you don't ask for much you still end up with bugger all!' /b

In a run-down quarter of Paris, Gervaise Macquart struggles to earn a living and support her family. She earns a pittance washing other people's dirty clothes in the local washhouse, and dreams of having her own laundry. But in order to start her business she must incur debt, and her feckless husband cannot resist the lure of the Assommoir, the local bar that supplies all the working men with cheap spirits and absinthe. As her money troubles grow, so Gervaise's life…


Book cover of Père Goriot

Richard Goodman Author Of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France

From my list on 19th century French novels.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a Francophile for as long as I can remember. Something about France and French literature grabbed me by the heart when I was a young man and continues to do so. I’ve lived in France twice–a year each time–and have written about those experiences in books and essays. It’s 19th-century French literature that especially draws me and has deeply influenced my own writing.  

Richard's book list on 19th century French novels

Richard Goodman Why did Richard love this book?

Balzac wrote some 90 novels in a fury of creativity, dying at only 51. I haven’t read all 90 or even close to them, but of those I have, this book is by far my favorite. (I’m not alone. It was Henry James’ favorite, as well.) 

Set in a seamy boarding house in Paris around 1820, it’s the story of a father’s love for his two social-climbing daughters who let their father see them rarely and then only for his money. I’ve never read anything like this depiction of a father’s love, desperate and ever-hopeful—a man who lives in reduced circumstances so he can save every penny to give his ungrateful daughters.  

By Honoré de Balzac, A. J. Krailsheimer (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Père Goriot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the tragic story of a father whose obsessive love for his two daughters leads to his financial and personal ruin. It is set against the background of a whole society driven by social ambition and lust for money. The detailed descriptions of both affluence and squalor in the Paris of 1819 are an integral part of the drama played out by a wide range of characters, including the sinister but fascinating Vautrin. Unquestionably one of Balzac's finest novels, Pere Goriot still has the power to move the modern reader.
ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's…


Book cover of Sentimental Education: The Story of a Young Man

Jonathan Beecher Author Of Writers and Revolution: Intellectuals and the French Revolution of 1848

From my list on writers and artists in 1848 and the Paris commune.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by the failed revolutions of the 19th century and by the romantic socialists, democrats, and nationalists who made these revolutions. I think I have a better understanding of their world and the forces that brought them down than I have of the world I live in. But I do find in their writings remarkable echoes of my own fears and hopes about the future of democracy today.

Jonathan's book list on writers and artists in 1848 and the Paris commune

Jonathan Beecher Why did Jonathan love this book?

This novel is both the story of an unconsummated love affair and an account of the experience and imaginative life of the generation of young people who came to maturity around 1840 and whose lives were either broken or redirected by the revolution of 1848.

Flaubert takes great care to establish a counterpoint between the collapse of political ideals in 1848 and the collapse of the dreams of the individual characters. But Sentimental Education can also be considered as a work of history that brings the past to life and, in the end, offers a deep and, in some ways, sympathetic picture of the inability of individuals to shape history or their own lives, in a world ruled by elemental forces that elude understanding.


By Gustave Flaubert, Raymond N. MacKenzie (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sentimental Education as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fresh and vivid translation of Flaubert's influential bildungsroman


Gustave Flaubert conceived Sentimental Education, his final complete novel, as the history of his own generation, one that failed to fulfill the promise of the Revolution of 1848. Published a few months before the start of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, it offers both a sweeping panorama of French society over three decades and an intimate bildungsroman of a young man from a small town who arrives in Paris when protests against the monarchy are increasing.

The novel's protagonist, Frederic Moreau, alternates between aimlessness and ambition as he searches for a meaningful…


Book cover of Sentimental Education

Anton Gill Author Of The Journey Back from Hell

From my list on the best I have read so far.

Why am I passionate about this?

I think Zoroastrianism got it right: there's a constant knife-edge balance between good and evil, with neither quite winning; but we shouldn't be overconfident that one day that balance will tip to the bad side because that is always more dominant. Art in all forms has served dictators and tyrants as well as criticised them; few works have ever actually changed anything. If they have, it's been through literature most of all. Zola's 'j'accuse' and Sinclair's 'the jungle' are two obvious examples, but all the books I have chosen are powerful tools for self–examination, and as someone who is particularly interested in man's inhumanity to man I have found them useful. 

Anton's book list on the best I have read so far

Anton Gill Why did Anton love this book?

I think this is a better book than MME Bovary. It's quite in the tradition of Marivaudage but Flaubert has such a light though ruthless touch that at times you just don't know where your sympathies lie. If Flaubert has been a surgeon he's have been an expert with the smallest, finest scalpels! His technique stands in great contrast to the work of Hugo and Zola, and he certainly outmanoeuvres Balzac! I often wish he'd written more, but what he's left us is pure gold. You might like to compare this book with Fontane's Effi Briest – another stunning novel–of–manners. I was hard put to it to make a choice between these two novels for my 4th choice.

By Gustave Flaubert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sentimental Education as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I want to write the moral history of the men of my generation—or, more accurately, the history of their feelings," declared Gustave Flaubert, who envisioned "a book about love, about passion; but passion such as can exist nowadays—that is to say, inactive." First published in 1869, this novel fulfills Flaubert's conception with a realistic, ironic portrait of bourgeois lives played out against France's tumultuous revolution of 1848 and the founding of its Second Empire.
Frédéric Moreau, a law student in Paris, dreams of achieving success in art, business, journalism, and politics. His aspirations take a romantic turn upon a chance…


Book cover of Madame Bovary

Astrid Carlen-Helmer Author Of The Demon King’s Interpreter

From my list on capturing France's most epic love stories.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a French-American writer with a passion for young adult stories and flawed female characters. Born and raised in France in a household without a TV, I spent my entire childhood reading avidly, which in turn led me to study Literature and Film. In fact, most of my life, I have been inspired by novels that offer windows into new worlds that open up possibilities. Some of the novels from the list below feature some of my favorite characters, and provide insights into other worlds and other times. 

Astrid's book list on capturing France's most epic love stories

Astrid Carlen-Helmer Why did Astrid love this book?

Madame Bovary is the story of a woman who endlessly struggles to escape the banalities of her provincial life.

This novel makes you feel like you’re in the head of its main characters: first Charles Bovary, then Emma, his second wife and the novel’s eponymous hero. It is so realistic that upon its release, the author was taken to court for public offense against morality.

Still very modern, Emma’s drama is, to me, the discrepancy between illusions and reality. Her quest for happiness outside of her own condition and her inability to be satisfied with what she has are themes that, I believe, still resonate today.

By Gustave Flaubert, Geoffrey Wall (translator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Madame Bovary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A masterpiece' Julian Barnes

Flaubert's erotically charged and psychologically acute portrayal of a married woman's affair caused a moral outcry on its publication in 1857. Its heroine, Emma Bovary, is stifled by provincial life as the wife of a doctor. An ardent devourer of sentimental novels, she seeks escape in fantasies of high romance, in voracious spending and, eventually, in adultery. But even her affairs bring her disappointment, and when real life continues to fail to live up to her romantic expectations, the consequences are devastating. It was deemed so lifelike that many women claimed they were the model for…


Book cover of Adèle

Madeline Stevens Author Of Devotion

From my list on in protest of women’s “likability”.

Why am I passionate about this?

“I didn’t like the characters.” “I couldn’t relate.” Whenever I hear someone bring up the matter of “likability” a single thought roars through my head: How ‘likable’ do you really think you are? A main purpose of fiction is to illuminate those nasty thoughts we all have but are rarely willing to admit. A book should be intimate, uncomfortably so, just as to actually occupy another person’s mind and body would be. It also seems to me “the characters” referenced by these kinds of critiques are always women. We expect fictional men to shock us and to struggle with their own desires; why should we expect women to only charm?

Madeline's book list on in protest of women’s “likability”

Madeline Stevens Why did Madeline love this book?

Our protagonist, Adèle, is a sex addict in a sexless marriage, longing to escape the quotidian boredom of motherhood. Her desires are clear. “She wants to be devoured, sucked, swallowed whole.” She also wants to not want this. The interesting question the novel poses indirectly: What do we want of this character? Slimani (of The Perfect Nanny fame) writes so deliciously about Adèle’s desires the answer is clear—we long to watch Adèle falter, we want to hear every terrible thought in her head.

By Leila Slimani,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Adèle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Fascinating . . . Adele has glanced at the covenant of modern womanhood--the idea that you can have it all or should at least die trying--and detonated it." --The New York Times Book Review

"[A] fierce, uncanny thunderbolt of a book." --Entertainment Weekly

From the bestselling author of The Perfect Nanny--one of the 10 Best Books of the Year of The New York Times Book Review--as well as Sex and Lies and In the Country of Others, her prizewinning novel about a sex-addicted woman in Paris

She wants only one thing: to be wanted.

Adele appears to have the perfect…


Book cover of An Unofficial Marriage: A Novel about Pauline Viardot and Ivan Turgenev

Hilary Poriss Author Of Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville

From my list on nineteenth-century divas.

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with opera history as an undergraduate exchange student in Vienna and went on to pursue my passion in graduate school. Rather than writing about opera composers and their music, I chose the unusual path of studying famous singers from the nineteenth century, especially the prima donnas who exerted extraordinary authority over composers, theater directors, and spectators. In my books and articles, I focus on the power of divas to thrill audiences and to shape the musical culture of which they are an integral part. The books I am recommending explore the lives and careers of some of the most fascinating prima donnas of the nineteenth century.

Hilary's book list on nineteenth-century divas

Hilary Poriss Why did Hilary love this book?

Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) was one of the most celebrated prima donnas of the nineteenth century, but she was much more than a typical diva. She was also one of the most versatile artists of the era, a talented composer, arranger, teacher, autograph collector, entrepreneur, salonnière, and promoter of early music. While fictionalized, this novel sticks closely to historical events of her life, focusing on her marriage to Louis Viardot, her long-lasting affair with Russian author Ivan Turgenev, and the unconventional and loving bonds that formed between these three extraordinary artists. If you’re looking for historical fiction about one of the most fascinating divas of the nineteenth century, An Unofficial Marriage is a great choice.

By Joie Davidow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Unofficial Marriage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For Fans of Alexander Chee's best-selling novel, The Queen of the Night and opera fans everywhere.

Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous events of 19th century Europe, An Unofficial Marriage dramatizes the equally tumultuous real-life love affair of two great artists—the famous Russian author, Ivan Turgenev, and the celebrated French opera singer, Pauline Viardot. From the moment he encounters her on the St. Petersburg stage, Ivan falls completely for Pauline. Though Pauline returns his feelings, she is bound by her singular passion for her art and her devotion to her gentle, older husband, Louis. Nevertheless, Ivan pursues Pauline across…


Book cover of The Scarlet Pimpernel

Jessica James Author Of Noble Cause: A Novel of Love and War

From my list on enemies to lovers romantic.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have lived in Gettysburg, PA, all of my life, so I’m drawn to historical fiction, especially the Civil War era. The 1860s is the perfect setting for the enemies-to-lovers trope, and I am lucky enough to be surrounded by history all of the time. In doing lots of research, I have found that enemies fell in love more often than you might think during the Civil War. I hope you enjoy this list of books that got me interested in reading and continue to keep my attention to this day.

Jessica's book list on enemies to lovers romantic

Jessica James Why did Jessica love this book?

My grandmother had this novel on her bookshelf, which is why I read it the first time, but I’ve read it over and over. This is my favorite classic love story that is not really enemies to lovers, but still has lots of emotion and conflict.

I love it because of the conflict and for its educational value in teaching about the French Revolution.

By Baroness Emmuska Orczy,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Scarlet Pimpernel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

HarperCollins is proud to present its incredible range of best-loved, essential classics.

"Vaguely she began to wonder ... which of these worldly men round her was the mysterious 'Scarlet Pimpernel,' who held the threads of such daring plots, and the fate of valuable lives in his hands."

In the early days of the bloody French Revolution, fleeing aristocrats are being captured and sent to the guillotine. But the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel - along with his band of English gentlemen - is outwitting the revolutionaries. Known only by his calling card, he arrives in disguise and smuggles the nobles out of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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