Leon has left for Paris, and Emma once again grows severely depressed and frustrated with her life. In her depressive state, she fantasizes about Leon quite often and dreams of what life would have been like had she succumbed to her desire to begin an affair with him. While in this state of despair, Emma meets Rodolphe Boulanger, a wealthy and attractive resident of a nearby town. Boulanger brings a servant to Yonville to be treated by Charles. While Charles examines the patient, Homais's assistant Justin is standing in the room. Justin faints upon seeing the man's blood being let. Emma helps revive Justin, and as she cares for him, Rodolphe takes note of her beauty. At this moment, Rodolphe begins planning his seduction of Emma, viewing her as a purely sexual object.
The annual agricultural fair is taking place in Yonville, and all the residents are quite excited. The fair is a large event where local farmers display animals, give speeches on issues of agriculture, and receive prizes. For working on the same farm for fifty-four years, Catherine Leroux, a very aged woman, receives one of the prizes. Amid all the excitement, Rodolphe spirits Emma away into the town hall, where the two watch the prize ceremony from the window. While they stand alone inside the empty hall, Rodolphe capitalizes on the opportunity and tells Emma he loves her. At first, she is not responsive and continues to listen to a speech on public morality given by the representative of the local prefect. But Rodolphe is persistent and urges Emma to admit that she feels similarly drawn to him. Emma is torn, and at first she attempts to behave as she believes a married woman should, but she soon succumbs, holding his hand and intertwining her fingers with his. With this interaction, Rodolphe lays the seed for what will develop into a lengthy affair.
After confessing his love at the agricultural fair, Rodolphe avoids Emma for six weeks in order to allow her to develop a powerful yearning for him. Finally, he visits her, and at first she behaves coldly, but he is persistent and speaks to her again of his love and romantic intentions. Emma is won over, but she does not yet submit to Rodolphe. Charles returns home, and Rodolphe offers to take Emma horseback riding. Afraid of what might develop, Emma refuses, but Charles ironically convinces her to take Rodolphe up on his offer.
Emma and Rodolphe go riding together through fields, forests, and greenery. When they have stopped to rest in a particularly beautiful glen, Rodolphe again professes his love for Emma. Finally, Emma submits to him, and they make love. Upon returning home, Emma rejoices in the romanticism that has finally entered her life. She throws herself into a life of adultery. She and Rodolphe continue their affair, with Emma often sneaking away from home to meet him. As their affair progresses, Emma grows increasingly dependent upon Rodolphe and develops a certain obsession with him and his luxurious life.
Emma and Rodolphe begin to meet in the arbor in Emma's garden rather at Rodolphe's home, since they are apprehensive of raising suspicion. As Emma grows increasingly passionate and obsessed with her lover, Rodolphe grows tired of her and her romantic idealism. Nevertheless, due to her extreme beauty, Rodolphe continues the affair, all the while stressing that they must be careful to prevent their relationship from being discovered. Emma notices that Rodolphe appears to be pulling away from her and repeatedly demands that he state his love.
Emma receives a letter from her father, which sparks a memory of her childhood, and Emma begins to grow guilty. As she did once before, Emma commits to a sacrifice of her happiness. She tries to force herself to love her husband and treats Rodolphe coolly, trying to end the affair.
After reading a paper praising a new surgical procedure that cures clubbed feet, Homais speaks to Emma and Charles about the issue. Seeing an opportunity for Charles to improve his career, Emma urges him to perform the surgery on Hippolyte, a clubfooted inn-servant. Despite his clubfoot, Hippolyte is in fact quite mobile and has adapted extremely well to his unfortunate ailment. However, eager to see the surgery performed and their doctor become famous, the townspeople convince Hippolyte to undergo the operation. Charles is quite nervous, but Emma's confidence spurs him on, and he performs the surgery. At first, it appears to have been a success and, briefly, Charles is a local celebrity. But within a short time it becomes clear that something has gone seriously wrong. Hippolyte develops gangrene in his leg, and a doctor from out of town must be called in. To save Hippolyte from certain death, the doctor amputates his leg. Charles is publicly embarrassed, and when his incompetence becomes clear, Emma again feels only disdain and disgust for him--not at all recognizing her own role in the disaster. Before this incident, Emma attempted to slow down her relationship with Rodolphe and to be more faithful and loving to her husband. Now, upon Charles's extreme failure, she returns to Rodolphe with a renewed passion.
Emma has lost all hope for her marriage. She begins to fantasize about escaping with Rodolphe. Eventually these fantasies grow increasingly realistic to her, and she begins to speak with Rodolphe of her wish to leave Charles. Rodolphe is minimally responsive, not wanting to encourage her in such thinking.
Meanwhile, the merchant and moneylender Lheureux has begun to take advantage of Emma's weakness for luxury by encouraging her to make purchases. Through Lheureux, Emma buys many expensive gifts for Rodolphe, even while he grows increasingly turned off and frustrated with her romanticism. As her obsession has increased, Emma's behavior has grown careless; all of Yonville save her husband knows of her indiscretion. Even Charles's mother is suspicious when she visits, which leads to a fight with Emma. Trying to mend fences between the two women in his life, Charles urges Emma to apologize to his mother, and she complies. Angry and humiliated, Emma puts formal plans in place to run away with Rodolphe, planning to take her daughter Berthe and meet Rodolphe in Rouen. Rodolphe plays along with Emma's fantasy, but as he leaves her garden for the last time, the reader sees that ultimately he will not follow through with these elaborate plans.
The agricultural fair is a very important event for the townspeople of Yonville. It demonstrates the realistic outlook among people living in the French countryside. Flaubert describes how happy and content the farmers are with their lifestyle, emphasizing their lifelong dedication to hands-on work. Catherine Leroux, for instance, is a strong opposite of Emma. Leroux has worked on the same farm for over fifty years and is a timid, quiet, humble woman. In contrast, Emma is extremely displeased with country life and yearns for something greater, more exciting, and more luxurious in life and love.
The introduction of Rodolphe portends the eventual disaster that will occur later in the novel. Rodolphe is very unlike Leon. While Leon saw Emma as an unattainable and intimidating example of perfection, Rodolphe views her as a woman to entertain himself with. Leon felt true love and a strong desire for Emma, while Rodolphe views her as a purely sexual object. At first he is mildly entertained by her romanticism. Leon prevents himself from pursuing Emma because she is married, while her marital status makes Rodolphe more determined to woo her, because he knows there is little danger of a permanent commitment. Rodolphe senses Emma's unhappiness and eagerness to have an affair, so he calculates carefully and manipulates her in order win her over.
The moment of Rodolphe's first attempt at seduction is highly ironic. While he professes his love to Emma inside the empty town hall, an official gives a speech on public morality. To highlight this contrast, Flaubert goes back and forth between describing the scene inside the town hall and describing the speech being delivered outside. The entire town is listening to the speaker with rapt attention, while Emma and Rodolphe begin a fundamentally immoral relationship. Flaubert's method very clearly highlights Rodolphe's insincerity. For example, when Rodolphe tells Emma he loves her, the official presents a local farmer with an award for the best manure. As the scene progresses, the switches between Rodolphe's dialogue and the official's grow more and more frequent until single sentences are interleaved.
Irony continues to play an important role in the development of Rodolphe and Emma's relationship. Charles is the one who urges Emma to accept Rodolphe's invitation to go riding, which would be imprudent if he really understood Rodolphe's intentions and his wife's interest. Charles believes the riding will help Emma's health, leading her to spend more time outdoors or exercising. Not only that, it is Charles who writes to Rodolphe to request that he escort Emma on a brief riding excursion. Charles has no idea that he is handing his wife over to a sexual predator and, in so doing, he is urging the initiation of a long, adulterous affair.
As Emma rides alongside Rodolphe, Flaubert writes with extreme lyricism, which helps the reader grow sympathetic to her situation. Emma is in love, but we feel sympathetic for her in the ironic knowledge that she is simply being manipulated. Although she appears to feel true passion, we know Rodolphe is not to be trusted. It is easy to perceive that Emma is simply caught up in her pattern of short, passionate romantic interludes, and we know from her earlier attempts at religious and maternal love that she is rarely serious for long. Even if Rodolphe were to fall in love with her, would she really stay with him for the long term? This problem illustrates the ultimate flaw in Emma and Rodolphe's relationship and promises the tragic end of their affair one way or another. In any case, we feel sympathy for a woman caught up in a false sense of love and romance. Emma's emotional suffering is simply being hidden for the time being.
As Emma's affair with Rodolphe progresses, the impending tragic end of the relationship looms larger. Through the couple's interactions, we painfully observe Emma's blindness and naivetÃ© while Rodolphe clearly remains interested only in sexual pleasure. In this section, Emma again demonstrates her inability to remain happy for an extended period of time. Once her guilt over the affair takes over, she throws herself into self-sacrifice, but again her attempts to love her husband and support him in his career are shallow.
As we would have expected, Charles fails in the operation. He again shows weakness in being talked into performing the operation. Emma held out great hope for the success of the surgery, and she might have returned to a more sincere faithfulness if he had succeeded. Instead, she is severely disappointed and disillusioned with Charles's proof of mediocrity. Though she is disgusted with her husband, Emma has an easy out, a man she thinks is ready and waiting, and she finds it easy to return to Rodolphe.
The failure of Hippolyte's operation demonstrates how excessive pride can lead to destruction. Homais, Flaubert's classic bourgeois know-it-all, provides the initial inspiration for the surgery, and Emma and eventually the whole town pridefully root for Charles's success. Of course, it is naive to believe that a simple article provides enough training to engage in a dramatic operation. As a result, the mediocre doctor and the overly proud Homais are responsible for the loss of Hippolyte's leg. Instead of helping him, they cause the man intense agony. Despite their brief fame, they embarrassing themselves powerfully. In contrast, Hippolyte never wanted the surgery and was happy in his humility, making do with his imperfect leg. It is not aristocratic pride but a more basic, natural human pride that leads his peers to persuade him that a deformed person is actually unhappy.
Like the gangrene that gradually poisons hisHippolyte's body until the leg must be cut off to save his life, the creeping evil of infidelity is going to catch up with Emma. How can she cut off the limb that is threatening her life? Although she lives a relatively comfortable life, she cannot recognize beauty or happiness in it and instead strives for perfection. As her life passes by, Emma's unhappiness and resulting adulterous and dishonest behavior poisons her. Like Hippolyte and his desire for two perfect legs, Emma meets disaster in her search for an unrealistic perfection.
As her life grows increasingly intertwined with Rodolphe's, Emma begins to lose all sense of morality. She also develops an even greater obsession with superficial things. She becomes excessively vain and increasingly bold in her behavior, almost daring Charles to catch her with Rodolphe. Caught up in her personal satisfactions, Emma puts her family, finances and life at risk while she buries herself in her relationship with Rodolphe. As her boldness grows, so does her addiction to luxury, and Emma purchases many fine and excessively expensive goods from Lheureux. She cannot afford these items, nor are they appropriate for her house or lifestyle. Flaubert masterfully develops Emma's moral degeneration and increasing debt. Which problem will be the one that leads most directly to her downfall?