A Simple Heart
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"A Simple Heart" Summary

By Gustave Flaubert

classics | 62 pages | Published in NaN

With an attention to the details of bourgeois life considered almost scandalous at the time, A Simple Heart will remind many why Gustave Flaubert was acclaimed as the first great master of realism. But this heart-breaking tale of a simple servant woman and her life-long search for love meant something else to Flaubert. Written near the end of his life, the work was meant to be a tribute to George Sand—who died before it was finished—and was written in answer to an argument the two were having over the importance of realism. Although the tale displays his virtuosic gift for telling detail, and is based on one of his actual servants, Flaubert said it exemplified his belief that "Beauty is the object of all my efforts." This sparkling new translation by Charlotte Mandell shows how impeccably Flaubert achieved his goal.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A Simple Heart follows the life of a kind and devoted servant named Félicité as she experiences love, loss, and unwavering faith.


"A Simple Heart" is a poignant novella written by Gustave Flaubert, a prominent French novelist. Originally published in 1877, the story delves into the life of Félicité, a kind-hearted and devoted servant, and her unwavering loyalty to her masters. Set against the backdrop of 19th-century rural France, Flaubert's narrative skillfully explores themes of love, sacrifice, and the human condition.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The novella unfolds in the small town of Pont-l'Évêque, where Félicité, a simple and devoted servant, works for the Aubain family. Over the years, she forms deep emotional connections with the family members, particularly with Virginie, the daughter of her mistress. As the story progresses, Félicité experiences various trials and heartaches, including the loss of her loved ones, yet she remains steadfast in her dedication to those around her.


The story is primarily set in rural Normandy, France, during the 19th century. The quaint countryside and the rustic charm of the setting serve as a backdrop for Félicité's humble and unassuming life as a servant.

Main Characters

Below are the main characters in "A Simple Heart" along with brief descriptions of their roles in the story:

FélicitéA kind-hearted and devoted servant who forms deep emotional connections with her masters and experiences numerous trials throughout her life.
Madame AubainFélicité's mistress, who becomes a central figure in Félicité's life.
VirginieMadame Aubain's daughter, with whom Félicité forms a particularly strong bond.
The ParrotA significant symbol in the story, representing Félicité's emotional attachment and enduring love.

Summary of Different Story Points over Chapters

Chapter 1: Félicité's Early Years

The novella introduces Félicité as a young girl in a rural farming community, where she experiences the early hardships that shape her compassionate and devoted nature.

Chapter 2: Service to the Aubain Family

Félicité begins her service with the Aubain family, and her unwavering dedication to her work and her emotional attachment to her masters become evident.

Chapter 3: Emotional Bonds

Félicité forms a profound emotional connection with Virginie, Madame Aubain's daughter, and the two develop a strong bond that transcends the traditional servant-master relationship.

Chapter 4: Loss and Grief

Félicité experiences the pain of losing her loved ones, including Virginie, which deeply affects her, highlighting the theme of enduring love and devotion.

Chapter 5: Félicité's Unwavering Devotion

Despite the hardships and losses she endures, Félicité remains steadfast in her loyalty to the Aubain family, showcasing her unwavering devotion.

Main Events

  • Félicité's arrival at the Aubain household and her initial interactions with the family members.
  • The deep emotional bond that develops between Félicité and Virginie, shaping Félicité's unwavering devotion.
  • The tragic loss of Virginie and Félicité's subsequent emotional turmoil, highlighting the theme of enduring love and resilience.
  • Félicité's unwavering dedication to Madame Aubain, even in the face of her own declining health and well-being.

Themes and Insights


  1. Devotion and Sacrifice: The novella explores the theme of unwavering devotion and sacrifice through Félicité's selfless dedication to her masters, despite her own personal hardships.
  2. Enduring Love: The story delves into the concept of enduring love, as Félicité's emotional attachment to her loved ones transcends the trials and tribulations she faces.
  3. Emotional Resilience: Félicité's ability to endure loss and emotional turmoil while remaining devoted to her masters reflects the theme of emotional resilience.


  • The novella provides insights into the complexities of human emotions and the enduring nature of love and devotion.
  • It offers a glimpse into the lives of individuals in rural 19th-century France, shedding light on the societal dynamics and the role of servants in that era.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Simple Heart" offers readers a poignant and insightful exploration of love, devotion, and the resilience of the human spirit. Through Félicité's unwavering dedication and emotional journey, readers are reminded of the enduring power of love and the strength found in selfless sacrifice.


In "A Simple Heart," Gustave Flaubert masterfully crafts a narrative that resonates with themes of love, sacrifice, and emotional resilience. The story of Félicité, a devoted servant whose unwavering loyalty transcends personal trials, offers readers a compelling portrayal of the human experience and the enduring nature of love. As readers delve into Félicité's emotional journey, they are presented with a timeless tale that continues to captivate and inspire audiences to this day.

A Simple Heart FAQ

  1. What is 'A Simple Heart' about?

    A Simple Heart is a story about a kind and simple woman named Felicite, who works as a servant for various families throughout her life. It follows her experiences, relationships, and the challenges she faces.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Simple Heart'?

    Gustave Flaubert, a renowned French novelist, is the author of 'A Simple Heart'. He is best known for his novel 'Madame Bovary'.

  3. What is the main theme of 'A Simple Heart'?

    The main themes in 'A Simple Heart' include the simplicity of life, the power of love and devotion, the struggles of a lower-class woman, and the impact of societal expectations.

  4. Is 'A Simple Heart' a long book?

    No, 'A Simple Heart' is a novella, so it is relatively short in length compared to a full-length novel.

  5. What is the setting of 'A Simple Heart'?

    The story is set in the 19th century in rural France, depicting the life and struggles of the protagonist, Felicite, in this historical context.