A Simple Heart

by

Gustave Flaubert

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Félicité Barette Character Analysis

The protagonist of “A Simple Heart,” a poor housemaid living in 19th century France. Félicité is a highly moral, hard-working, and virtuous woman. Félicité is born to working-class parents who die when she is a child; at that time, she is separated from her siblings, and begins to work as a farmhand and domestic servant. After working for two farmers and being abandoned by her first love, Théodore, Félicité gains employment with Madame Aubain, for whom she will work for the remainder of her life. While working for the Aubains, Félicité endures significant hardship and loss. Her beloved nephew, Victor, and her mistress’s daughter, Virginie Aubain, both pass away, as does Madame Aubain herself. And yet, Félicité endures every loss and hardship by maintaining her commitment to faith and goodness. Though Félicité remains morally virtuous throughout the novel, her deep spirituality is catalyzed by her indirect participation in Virginie Aubain’s catechism, and this spirituality inspires her to maintain an intimate relationship with God. In the final portion of the story, Félicité develops strong emotional ties to her pet parrot Loulou. After seeing a painting of the Holy Spirit depicted as a colorful bird, Félicité begins associating the parrot with the Holy Spirit. She maintains a belief in this association even after the parrot’s death, when she pays for him to be stuffed by a taxidermist and begins praying to his stuffed corpse. When Virginie herself approaches death on Corpus Christi, her favorite day of the year, she imagines a large parrot opening the gates of heaven for her as she passes away.

Félicité Barette Quotes in A Simple Heart

The A Simple Heart quotes below are all either spoken by Félicité Barette or refer to Félicité Barette. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of A Simple Heart published in 2005.
Chapter 1 Quotes

At twenty-five, people took her to be as old as forty. After her fiftieth birthday, it became impossible to say what age she was at all. She hardly ever spoke, and her upright stance and deliberate movements gave her the appearance of a woman made out of wood, driven as if by clockwork.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Page Number: 4-5
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

She was dressed in mere rags, she shivered with cold and would lie flat on her stomach to drink water from ponds. She was regularly beaten for no reason at all and was eventually turned out of the house for having stolen thirty sous, a theft of which she was quite innocent. She was taken on at another farm, where she looked after the poultry and, because she was well liked by her employers, her friends were jealous of her.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

He then announced something rather disturbing: a year ago his parents had paid for someone else to do his military service but he might still be called up at any time. The prospect of serving in the army terrified him. Félicité took this cowardice as a sign of his affection for her and it made her love him all the more.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette, Théodore
Page Number: 6-7
Explanation and Analysis:

Thinking that it would help the children to derive some enjoyment from their studies, he bought them an illustrated geography book. It depicted scenes from different parts of the world […] Paul carefully explained all these pictures to Félicité. In fact, this was the only time anyone ever taught her how to read a book.

Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Félicité became very attached to them. She bought them a blanket, some shirts and a cooking stove. They were obviously out to take advantage of her. Madame Aubain was annoyed that Félicité was not more firm with them. She also took objection to the familiar way in which the nephew spoke to Paul.”

Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

She wept at the story of Christ’s Passion. Why had they crucified a man who was so kind to children, fed the hungry, gave sight to the blind, and who had chosen, out of his own gentle nature, to be born amongst the poor on the rough straw of a stable? Seed-time and harvest, the fruits of the vine, all those familiar things mentioned in the gospels had their place in her life too. They now seemed sanctified by contact with God.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

His parents always told him to make sure he brought something back with him, a bag of sugar, a piece of soap, a little brandy or even money. He brought with him any of his clothes that needed mending and Félicité always did the work willingly, glad of any opportunity of encouraging him to visit her again.

Page Number: 17-18
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Félicité had been fed such rough treatment since she was a child, she felt very offended by Madame Aubain. But she soon got over it. After all, it was to be expected that Madame should get upset about her own daughter. For Félicité, the two children were of equal importance; they were bound together by her love for them and it seemed right that they should share the same fate.

Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Much later, she came to learn the circumstances of Victor’ s death from the captain of his ship. He had caught yellow fever and had been bled too much in the hospital. Four separate doctors had given him the same treatment and he had died immediately. The chief doctor’s comment was, ‘Good, that’s one more to add to the list!’

Related Characters: Félicité Barette, Victor Leroux
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

They found a little chestnut-coloured hat made of long-piled plush, but it had been completely destroyed by the moths. Félicité asked if she might have it as a keepsake. The two women looked at each other and their eyes filled with tears. Madame Aubain opened her arms and Félicité threw herself into them. Mistress and servant embraced each other, uniting their grief in a kiss which made them equal.

Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the Poles even said he would like to marry her, but they had a serious argument when she came back one morning from the angelus to find him ensconced in her kitchen, calmly helping himself to a salad which she had prepared for lunch.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

He thoroughly irritated Madame Aubain and so she gave him to Félicité to look after. She decided she would teach him to speak and he was very soon able to say, ‘Pretty boy!’, ‘Your servant, sir!’ and ‘Hail Mary!’ She put him near the front door and a number of visitors were surprised that he would not answer to the name ‘Polly’ […] Some people said he looked more like a turkey or called him a blockhead. Félicité found their jibes very hurtful. There was a curious stubborn streak in Loulou which never ceased to amaze Félicité; he would refuse to talk the minute anyone looked at him! Even so, there was no doubt that he appreciated company.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette, Madame Aubain
Related Symbols: Loulou the Parrot
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

As she came to the top of the hill at Ecquemauville, she saw the lights of Honfleur twinkling in the night like clusters of stars and, beyond them, the sea, stretching dimly into the distance. She was suddenly overcome with a fit of giddiness and her wretched childhood, the disappointment of her first love affair, the departure of her nephew and the death of Virginie all came flooding back to her like the waves of an incoming tide, welling up inside her and taking her breath away.

Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Félicité wept for her in a way that servants rarely weep for their masters. That Madame should die before her disturbed her whole way of thinking; it seemed to go against the natural order of things; it was something unacceptable and unreal.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette, Madame Aubain
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Ten days later, just as soon as they could get there from Besançon, the heirs arrived on the scene. Madame Aubain’s daughter-in-law went through all the drawers, chose a few pieces of furniture for herself and sold what was left. […] On the walls, yellow patches marked the places where pictures had once hung. They had taken away the children’s beds, along with their mattresses, and the cupboard had been cleared of all Virginie’s things. Félicité went from room to room, heartbroken.

Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

In her anguish she would gaze at him and beg the Holy Spirit to come to her aid. She developed the idolatrous habit of kneeling in front of the parrot to say her prayers. Sometimes the sun would catch the parrot’s glass eye as it came through the little window, causing an emanation of radiant light that sent her into ecstasies.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Related Symbols: Loulou the Parrot
Page Number: 36-37
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

A cascade of bright colours fell from the top of the altar down to the carpet spread out on the cobblestones beneath it. In amongst the flowers could be seen a number of other treasured ornaments: a silver-gilt sugar-bowl decorated with a ring of violets, a set of pendants cut from Alençon gemstones glittering on a little carpet of moss, two Chinese screens with painted landscapes. Loulou lay hidden beneath some roses and all that could be seen of him was the spot of blue on the top of his head, like a disc of lapis lazuli.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Related Symbols: Loulou the Parrot
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Her eyes closed and a smile played on her lips. One by one her heartbeats became slower, growing successively weaker and fainter like a fountain running dry, an echo fading away. With her dying breath she imagined she saw a huge parrot hovering above her head as the heavens parted to receive her.

Related Characters: Félicité Barette
Related Symbols: Loulou the Parrot
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
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Félicité Barette Character Timeline in A Simple Heart

The timeline below shows where the character Félicité Barette appears in A Simple Heart. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Félicité Barette is “the envy of all the good ladies of Pont-l’Evêque.” She has this reputation... (full context)
Chapter 2
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
The narrative shifts back in time to Félicité’s childhood. Félicité was born to working-class parents who died when she was a child, and... (full context)
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
After her first employer turns her out, Félicité goes to work at a different farm. There, she cares for the poultry and is... (full context)
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...his place, and he confesses his fear that the scheme will be soon be discovered. Félicité perceives his fear as a sign of his love for her and grows even more... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
Félicité finds that she is soon able to recover from the pain of Théodore’s betrayal by... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
One evening while Félicité and the Aubains are returning home from enjoying a picnic at one of the Aubains’... (full context)
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
On the way to Trouville, Félicité and the Aubains stop in Toucques at another one of their properties: a farm currently... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
...enjoy watching the fishing boats come into the harbor. One afternoon, a fisherman’s wife approaches Félicité on the beach. This woman turns out to be Félicité’s long-lost sister, Nastasie Leroux (Barette),... (full context)
Chapter 3
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
Paul leaves home to attend school in Caen, France. He’s happy to go, but Félicité thinks the house is “very quiet without him.” Soon, she is tasked with accompanying Virginie... (full context)
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
...to teach her. With Virginie out of the house, and Paul still away at school, Félicité begins feeling lonely, and receives permission from Madame Aubain to invite her nephew Victor Leroux... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Félicité develops a close relationship with Victor as a result of his visits. He brings her... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...for a two-year job at sea. Hoping to say goodbye to him as he departs, Félicité runs for ten miles to the port. However, she narrowly misses the opportunity to say... (full context)
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Félicité worries constantly about Victor, imagining all the tragedies that might befall him. Meanwhile, the nuns... (full context)
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
A letter arrives at the Aubain household to inform Félicité that her nephew Victor has died. Madame Aubain suggests that Félicité go and visit her... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...not live. As she rushes with Madame Aubain to Virginie’s bedside at the Ursuline convent, Félicité suddenly remembers that she has left the front gate of the house open. She jumps... (full context)
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
Madame Aubain and Félicité continue to mourn the loss of Virginie and discuss her frequently, even many years later.... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
The narrative moves forward through the years, describing the ways in which Félicité maintains—and even “increases”—her goodness over time. Alongside her household duties, she cares for cholera victims,... (full context)
Chapter 4
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Finding Loulou to be an annoyance, Madame Aubain gives him to a grateful Félicité. Visitors to the Aubain house also seem to find the parrot annoying, particularly because he... (full context)
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
One day, Félicité takes Loulou outside for some fresh air and places him in the grass, only to... (full context)
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
Coming downstairs one morning, Félicité discovers Loulou’s dead body, and believes that Fabu—the local “butcher’s boy”—has killed him. Félicité is... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
Félicité takes Madame Aubain’s suggestion and hires a taxidermist named Monsieur Fellacher to stuff Loulou’s body.... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
After waiting anxiously for six months, convinced that her parrot has been stolen, Félicité receives the stuffed version of Loulou in the mail. She mounts the parrot on the... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...Madame Aubain’s “haughtiness” and self-centered tendencies mean that she has few friends to mourn her, Félicité deeply grieves her mistress, thinking it unnatural that Madame Aubain should die before Félicité herself. (full context)
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...Paul Aubain and his new wife strip the house of its décor and furniture, upsetting Félicité greatly. Over the years, she developed an affection for many of the house’s contents, and... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
When Paul and his wife leave, Félicité lives alone in the Aubain household, even as it falls into disrepair. She is afraid... (full context)
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
On Corpus Christi, Félicité’s favorite day of the year, Félicité is concerned about not being able to help prepare... (full context)
Chapter 5
Faith and Virtue  Theme Icon
Classism and Class Disparity Theme Icon
Cruelty vs Compassion  Theme Icon
Love, Loss, and Death Theme Icon
...Corpus Christi procession arrive at the Aubain house to bless the altar in the courtyard, Félicité wakes at the sound of bells and imagines the procession very clearly, as if she... (full context)