Madame Bovary, the novel's protagonist. Educated in a convent and raised in the country, Emma marries Charles Bovary at a young age. Throughout her life, Emma dreams of a more romantic, sophisticated, and passionate life, often lapsing into extreme boredom and depression. Emma has a daughter, Berthe, but does not have any maternal instincts and leaves the child to be raised by the house help. An occasional sense of guilt or memories of her simple childhood and kind father cause Emma, rarely, to re-evaluate her life. Emma grows religious and resolves to become a better wife and mother, but these stages too are generally brief. Her deep desire for passion and extravagance lead Emma into adultery. She has affairs with both Rodolphe and Leon and thus develops massive debts against her husband's property. When she realizes she cannot escape her dishonesty and financial problems, Emma commits suicide; she prefers death over coming to terms with how she chose to live her life.
Charles is a country doctor of limited ability, incapable of difficult operations. For instance, under Emma's encouragement, he tries to operate on Hippolyte's club foot, but it develops severe gangrene and another doctor must be called in to amputate the limb. Blind to her infidelity and unhappiness, Charles loves and cares for Emma, believing her to be the perfect wife, but never truly understanding her. Captivated by her, Charles does not detect her poorly concealed adulterous affairs. Moreover, when Emma's debts begin to mount, Charles grants her power of attorney over all his property, which eventually results in financial ruin. After Emma kills herself, Charles discovers her infidelity and dies a disillusioned and lonely man.
A law clerk in Yonville who later becomes Emma's second lover. Leon and Emma share a romantic view of the world. Although he falls in love with her, Leon moves to Paris to study law, in part because he believes he cannot have Emma as long as she is married. When Emma meets Leon in Rouen by happenstance, he is more confident in his desires. At this point, Leon is portrayed as awkward and proud, but Emma sees him as cosmopolitan and modern. Drawn to this concept of urban sophistication, Emma begins the affair. At first they are happy, but eventually they grow bored with one another. When she comes to him desperate for financial assistance, Leon cannot help her and makes excuses while distancing himself from her. After Emma's death, Leon soon marries.
A wealthy nobleman who lives near Yonville. Rodolphe is extremely selfish and manipulative. He has had scores of lovers, and he views Emma as no more than another conquest. Rodolphe carefully plots his seduction of Emma, speaking false words of romance and love, satiating himself, and finally abandoning her on the day of their planned elopement, never having planned to follow through with his promises.
Madame Bovary the elder
Charles's mother, a bitter woman who plans her son's life, urges him to go into medicine and disapproves of his marriage to Emma. She sees Emma's dishonesty but attempts without success to force Charles to control Emma's spending.
Charles and Emma's daughter. Berthe is forced into a life of poverty due to her mother's extreme debt and her parents' untimely deaths.
A Yonville merchant and moneylender with a sinister streak. Lheureux leads Emma into severe debt by manipulating her powerful desire for luxury. Lheureux, acting the part of the devil, tempts Emma and other customers with luxuries they cannot afford, and then suddenly appears with requests for payment--then, promises of loans--and finally leads them into financial ruin. In Emma's case, her degree of debt and all the dishonesty it represents lead her to commit suicide.
The clubfooted servant at the Yonville inn. He undergoes surgery at the hands of Charles Bovary, which tragically results in the loss of his leg.
The Yonville town priest. He often argues with Monsieur Homais about the value of religion. Although religious, Bournisien does not appear to truly grasp deep spiritual problems, as evidenced by his inability to comprehend Emma's plea for help.
Emma's father, a simple, kind farmer devoted to his daughter and to the memory of his first wife.
The Yonville tax collector.
Leon's first employer, a successful Yonville lawyer. When Emma is desperate for financial assistance and seeks his help, he asks for sexual favors in return. In response, Emma storms from his home in anger.
Homais's assistant. A young, impressionable boy, Justin falls in love with Emma. In attempting to please her by submitting to her commands, he fetches the arsenic with which she eventually commits suicide. Upon her sickness and eventual death, Justin is stricken with guilt, shame, and other pains.
Charles's first wife, a widow whom Charles marries at his mother's urging. Heloise sees that Charles is interested in Emma and dies soon after this realization. Charles then pursues Emma, later marrying her.
A very successful doctor from Rouen who is called in to treat Emma after she takes arsenic to kill herself. Lariviere is purely analytical and condescending, but also highly competent.
The Yonville apothecary. Homais, bourgeois and self-important, helps Charles become established as the town doctor. Throughout the novel, Homais gives lengthy commentaries on a variety of subjects simply because he loves to hear himself speak. His disposition toward overconfidence causes great harm when he encourages Charles to operate on Hippolyte--tragedy ensues. Because he does not adhere to any aspect of religion, Homais often argues with the town priest, claiming that religion and prayer are useless. In truth, Homais embodies the bourgeois values and characteristics that Flaubert finds disgusting and which bore his protagonist, Emma.
Madame Bovary Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Madame Bovary is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Like many young women of the time, Emma followed her father's wishes. Her father received an offer for her hand, and he approved. Emma, of course, went along with his wishes. Note, she was perfectly happy with the arrangment.