Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary Summary and Analysis of Part Three, Chapters I-VI

Chapter I

While in Paris and Rouen, Leon had forgotten his love for Emma, but after seeing her at the opera, his old feelings return quickly. The day after the three sat together at the café near the opera house, Leon visits Emma in her hotel room (Charles has returned to Yonville). Emma also begins to remember her feelings for Leon, and the two have an intimate conversation about unhappiness and about the romanticism of death. Leon finally professes his love to Emma and kisses her. In an attempt to avoid the heartache her first affair caused, Emma refuses him, but she agrees to meet him the next day at the cathedral. Almost to convince herself of her strength in turning him down, Emma writes Leon a letter explaining that she cannot be his mistress and that they must not pursue a relationship. The next day, Leon arrives at the cathedral, but Emma waits, planning to be late enough to avoid him and prevent herself from falling in love again. When she arrives, however, he is still waiting for her. She gives him the letter, but he does not read it, and to further avoid the awkwardness of their meeting, Emma accepts the beadle's offer of a tour of the building. Leon grows increasingly frustrated and finally pulls her away and hails a carriage. The two climb into the carriage and pull the curtains tight, as Leon tells the driver simply to drive aimlessly throughout the city. They drive all day and into the evening, and no one can see what is going on inside. At one point, a hand emerges to discard the torn-up pieces of Emma's letter, and we are to assume that the two have consummated their relationship.

Chapter II

Because they were so caught up in each other during their carriage ride, Emma has missed the last coach back to Yonville and must take a private cab to catch up to it. Upon returning home, Emma is called to Homais's pharmacy, where Justin is in trouble for taking the key to a storeroom where Homais keeps arsenic. Emma is unsure why her presence was so urgently needed, and she is frustrated at having to watch this exchange. Homais finally tells Emma that Charles's father died. Charles is deeply saddened by the news, and his mother visits for an extended period--Emma is quite unpleased about this turn of events. Later, Lheureux comes to Emma with yet another list of debts. Having heard about Charles's father's death, Lhuereux suggests that Emma obtain power of attorney over the family finances in order to settle her debts. Emma comes to Charles, arguing that this approach will benefit everyone, and he naively believes her and agrees to the arrangement. Ironically, Charles even sends Emma to Rouen for three days in order to have Leon draw up the papers, unwittingly giving the new couple three full days to further their newfound relationship.

Chapter III

Emma visits Leon in Rouen. They spend three passionate days together in their hotel room, making love, taking a boat tour, and enjoying the romantic moonlight. On the boat tour, the boatman tells Emma and Leon of a party of people who were on the boat the night before. The man describes Rodolphe--and Emma shudders at the memory of him. But Leon is unaware of her affair with Rodolphe, and she does not want him to know that she loved another before him. To avoid suspicion, she quickly recovers and makes Leon promise to write to her in Yonville.

Chapter IV

Emma returns to Yonville, and to continue their affair, Leon comes up with reasons to visit the town. As a result, his life in Rouen is neglected, and he begins to encounter troubles with his work. Meanwhile, Emma throws herself back into excessive spending, and her debt grows worse. To make her affair easier, Emma schemes to have Charles agree to let her take piano lessons. Many evenings in a row, she sits at their piano, failing to put together a piece of music and feigning frustration and disappointment. Finally, she asks if she can take lessons, arguing that they undoubtedly will bring her happiness despite the expense. Charles agrees. Of course, there are no piano lessons, but Emma has a weekly excuse to spend time with Leon.

Chapter V

Every Thursday, on the pretext of taking her piano lesson, Emma goes to Rouen to see Leon. The affair has again awakened her extreme emotions. At home, she is nervous and aloof, but in Rouen, she is ecstatic and dramatic. With each visit, Emma's and Leon's relationship grows in intensity. As the intensity grows, the two begin to see each other as characters from a novel, which results in a certain degree of playacting and falsity.

While riding home to Yonville, Emma repeatedly sees a beggar who is blind and deformed. The man enjoys singing a particular song that disquiets her, and she is eager to be rid of his presence.

After some time, Charles meets Emma's supposed piano teacher and discovers that she has never met Emma or even heard her name. Charles presents Emma with this finding, and she quickly shows him fake receipts from the lessons. Imagining it all must have been a simple misunderstanding, Charles is convinced that everything is as it should be.

Emma's life is beginning to spiral out of control. She is becoming deeply enmeshed with Leon's life as he becomes concerned about her growing obsession. She spends inordinate amounts of her husband's money and lies to Charles about almost every aspect of her life. Lheureux is unwilling to allow Emma's debts to go unpaid, and he urges her to sell him a part of Charles's father's estate. She agrees, and he then talks her into borrowing even more money. When Charles's mother arrives, she examines the family accounts. To prevent disaster, Emma has Lheureux give her a false bill for a much smaller amount of money than is actually owed. Despite Emma's attempt to maintain control, Charles's mother burns the power of attorney papers in the fire. Emma is aghast and Charles is unsure of how to proceed. Eventually, he agrees to have the papers drawn up again.

Chapter VI

On a day when Emma is in Rouen to see Leon, Homais visits Leon, and Emma is forced to wait for him. She grows extremely angry at Leon for allowing Homais to keep him, and she then accuses Leon of not wanting to spend time with her. Leon promises to try to get away, but he is unsuccessful. Emma refuses to wait any longer. She returns to Yonville in a rage against Leon. She cannot believe that he would cast her aside, and she now starts to question his dedication to her. As a result, she treats him with a bit of contempt and tries to control every aspect of their relationship. Noticing her change in behavior, Leon himself grows resentful.

Emma's debts begin to loom heavily. A debt collector makes a surprise visit, and the sheriff serves her a legal notice. To prevent disaster, Emma borrows even more from Lheureux and desperately tries to raise money, selling many objects from her and Charles's home. But even as her debts mount and financial ruin looms, Emma continues to spend large sums of money when she is with Leon. Disapproving of her excessive behavior, he speaks out against her extravagance, and she grows angry with him. After all their romance, extravagance, and drama, Leon and Emma nevertheless have grown bored with each other. Once again Emma strays, searching for something new. She even finds herself at a disreputable restaurant with some vulgar clerks after attending a masquerade ball.

Emma returns to Yonville to find a court order demanding that she pay 8,000 francs immediately or lose her property. In a state of panic, Emma asks Lheureux for help, but he refuses and sends her away. Lheureux always understood Emma's weakness and has been eager to make all of the Bovary property his own.


Chapters I-III

As Emma begins her next love affair, now with Leon, she immediately abandons her religious renewal. As soon as the possibility of romantic love appears, she once again becomes lost in a fog of superficiality. Since Leon first parted ways with Emma, both have had signficant life experience. Emma, in particular, has had a lengthy affair with a dishonest, wealthy man, while Leon's romanticism has lessened as a result of his Parisian experiences.

In taking up Leon's perspective, Flaubert demonstrates that while Emma has again fallen deeply in love, Leon maintains a certain realistic distance and recognizes something of the harsh realities of their illicit behavior. This is another aspect of reality that Emma cannot accept. By this point, Leon has acquired characteristics that remind us of Rodolphe. At times, for example, he applauds himself for employing particularly romantic gestures or words. Even so, Leon has little of Rodolphe's sophistication; he becomes very impatient during the tour of the cathedral. Rather than recognizing Leon's immaturity, Emma simply allows herself to believe that his actions are a result of his intense love for her, and she characteristically buries herself inside of this fantasy.

In the cathedral, Emma's internal conflict between religiosity and unfaithfulness is brought to a head. Although she attempted to convince herself that she would not submit to Leon's advances, she quickly succumbs (as we expect), abandoning the church and following him to the fateful carriage. Just as Flaubert criticized bourgeois religion earlier in the novel, when Emma sought the advice on the Yonville priest, he criticizes it again here. Emma accepts the beadle's offer of a tour, but a tour is just a safe outsider's view of the cathedral without the risk of being enveloped by the morals it represents. She accepts the tour because she can feel her romantic desires beginning to take hold again, but the tour cannot provide the grounding that she needs. Emma "clung to the Virgin, the sculpture, the tombs-to anything," but rather than helping her, the beadle's detailed tour does not give Emma any spiritual support.

The carriage ride is one of the most well known parts of the novel. In this scene, Flaubert tells us what is going on inside the carriage without being explicit. His detailed description of the carriage's movement represents Emma and Leon making love, while the driver's exhaustion represents the couple's physical exhaustion. As the carriage continues to move throughout the city, it becomes clear that during the carriage ride, the couple is consummating their affair. Most notably, at the end of the scene, when a hand scatters the torn pieces of Emma's letter, the dissemination of the scraps represents sexual climax. The torn letter itself represents the failure of her resolutions of piety and loyalty to her husband--these resolutions are now cast to the wind.

Chapters IV-VI

In this section, Emma's faults and debts, which grew slowly before, now spiral out of control. She might have believed she had the possibility of true love with Leon, but the relationship has always been weighed down by her increasingly romantic notions and her obsessive disposition. In obsessing over the superficiality of objects such as the curtains in the hotel room and the decorative pieces on the mantel, we see that Emma still has an idealized view of her relationship with Leon and an unrealistic perspective on the world. We see that she is lost in a world of fantasy. The fantasy is impossible to maintain for very long at a time, and reality creeps and then leaps into her life.

Emma spends money even more carelessly in order to distract herself from her failing relationship with Leon. Furthermore, she sinks to cavorting with highly unsavory, vulgar men at parties in Rouen. Her increasingly excessive spending and debt compounds the pain and impending tragedy inherent in her relationship with Leon. Emma is hovering on the edge of ruin, emotionally and financially. As she steps closer to the edge, her panic begins to overwhelm her. The blind beggar represents Emma's increasingly wretched behavior, suggesting that this is the life she is headed for after her blind, romantic prodigality. Emma's overwhelming fear of the beggar mirrors her fear that in finally confronting her demons, Emma will meet death. Things have gotten out of control in almost every aspect of her life. Emma is lost in a whirlwind of guilt, passion, frustration, anger, love, and the harshness of reality.

Meanwhile, Charles is entirely unaware of the seriousness of Emma's situation. Characteristically unaware, he continues to fund her trips to Rouen.