Study Guide

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Madame Bovary, Flaubert’s first published novel, is arguably his greatest. Emma Bovary has become one of the most famous characters in world literature, and critics continue to debate and interpret her life, which, in its depiction of the conflict between idealism and reality, remains every bit as relevant today as it did when first published.

Formally divided into three parts, each one corresponding to a stage in Emma’s life, the novel opens with Charles Bovary’s youth and ends after Emma’s death, making Charles, as it were, a set of parentheses that enclose Emma’s life. Each section corresponds to an important stage in the narrative. The first part ends with the move to Yonville and the news that Emma is pregnant, thus presenting optimism at the prospect of change. As the reader suspects, however, the change does not bring happiness, and Emma quickly becomes dissatisfied once again. In her search for happiness, she turns to adultery with the rakish and unabashedly exploitative Rodolphe, whom Emma persists in seeing as a romantic hero. Emma plans to elope with him, but he balks at the last minute, and Emma is thrust into a depression that ends the second part of the novel. In the final section, Emma engages in yet another adulterous affair, this time with Léon, using the pretext of music lessons as the cover for her regular visits to nearby Rouen. The affair quickly becomes a routine, however, and a typical day sees Emma lying ever more blatantly to cover her tracks, selling property to pay the mounting bills, juggling the money problems, and taking less and less trouble to be discreet about the affair. For once, Emma is getting what she wants—excitement, romance, luxuries—and is forced to confront the fact that these are not the things that bring happiness. Unable to extricate herself from the financial problems that are ruining the family, and now irrevocably disillusioned about the possibility of finding happiness, she concludes that the only alternative is suicide.

Her dissatisfactions are highlighted by the contrast between her ideals and her uninspiring husband. The novel opens with the description of Charles Bovary as a schoolboy, a rather bumbling and boorish figure who provokes derision and mockery in his new classmates. It has often been noted that the name “Bovary,” derived from the Latin for “ox,” symbolizes Charles’s bovine character: slow, coarse and unrefined, rather dull-witted. Charles’s unfortunate start in life does not prevent him from becoming a doctor with a modest country practice and marrying for the second time for love, not for money. He marries Emma, the daughter of one of his farmer-patients, who then takes over as the central character of the narrative. Charles is an “officier de santé,” a phrase often simply translated as “country doctor,” but it is important, especially for contemporary readers, to remember that this was a second-class kind of doctor. Thus, although Charles is associated with the prestigious field of medicine, he is presented as one of its less-skilled practitioners. His was a modestly paid and extremely unglamorous occupation, which consisted mainly of contact with the most distasteful aspects of human malaise.

Flaubert describes in detail Emma’s background and education, for the fact that her outlook has been conditioned by reading novels is important in understanding her subsequent disappointments in life. She has high expectations of marriage and looks to it to fulfill all her dreams and ideals. When reality does not live up to these hopes, she is quickly dissatisfied. She imagines that satisfaction can be found in motherhood, romantic affairs, religion, material possessions, and any number of other fads that temporarily inspire her enthusiasm, but she is disappointed every time. At the end of the novel, when she despairs of finding happiness and realizes that she has ruined her family’s life through the debts she has incurred, she poisons herself with arsenic, turning her disillusionment inward in a self-destructive gesture of defeat.

Critics have disagreed over how Emma’s character should be interpreted. According to some, her idealism is seen as destructive and unrealistic, an example of the negative forces unleashed by romantic and indulgent imagination or, more reductively, as the folly of a materialistic and acquisitive woman who brings about the downfall of her family through her unbounded and selfish desires. A more sympathetic reading has also emerged based on a different understanding of the role of gender in the novel, a reading that sees Emma less as a silly woman, and more as a character in search of a deeper meaning to life but trapped by circumstances. These differences of interpretation are highlighted by different interpretations of the title of the work, which stresses that the heroine is not Emma, but Madame. Does the title, symbolizing Emma’s married, public identity, call attention to what she betrays, or to the situation that entraps her?

Madame Bovary Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Charles Bovary is a student of medicine who marries for his own advancement a woman much older than himself. She makes his life miserable with her nagging and groundless suspicions. One day, Charles is called to the bedside of Monsieur Rouault, who has a broken leg, and there he meets the farmer’s daughter, Emma, a beautiful but restless young woman whose early education in a French convent has given her an overwhelming thirst for broader experience. Charles finds his patient an excellent excuse to see Emma, whose charm and grace has captivated him.

Charles’s whining wife, Héloise, however, soon suspects the true reason for his visits to the Rouault farm. She hears rumors that in spite of Emma’s peasant background, the girl conducts herself like a gentlewoman. Angry and tearful, Héloise makes Charles swear that he will not visit the Rouault home again. Unexpectedly, Héloise’s fortune is found to be nonexistent. There is a violent quarrel over her deception, followed by a stormy scene between her and Charles’s parents, which brings on an attack of an old illness. Héloise dies quickly and quietly.

Charles feels guilty because he has so few regrets at his wife’s death. At old Rouault’s invitation, he returns once more to the farm and again falls under the spell of Emma’s charms. As old Rouault watches Charles fall more deeply in love with his daughter, he decides that the young doctor is dependable and perfectly respectable. He forces the young man’s hand, telling Charles he can have Emma in marriage and gives the couple his blessing.

During the first weeks of marriage, Emma occupies herself with changing their new home. She busies herself with every household task she can think of to keep herself from being utterly disillusioned. Emma realizes that even though she thought she was in love with Charles, she does not feel the rapture that should have come with marriage. All the romantic books she has read have led her to expect more from marriage, and the dead calm of her feelings is a bitter disappointment. Indeed, the intimacy of marriage disgusts her. Instead of having a perfumed, handsome lover in velvet and lace, she finds herself tied to a dull-witted husband who reeks of medicines and drugs.

As Emma is about to give up all hope of finding any joy in her new life, a noble patient whom Charles has treated invites them to a ball at his chateau. At the ball, Emma dances with a dozen partners, tastes champagne, and receives compliments on her beauty. The contrast between the life of the Bovarys and that of the nobleman is painfully evident. Emma becomes more and more discontented with Charles. His futile and clumsy efforts to please her only make her despair at his lack of understanding. She sits by her window, dreams of Paris, and then becomes ill.

Hoping a change would improve her condition, Charles takes Emma to Yonville, where he sets up a new practice and Emma prepares for the birth of their child. When their daughter is born, Emma’s chief interest in the child is confined to laces and ribbons for her clothes. The child is sent to a wet nurse, where Emma visits her, and where, accidentally, she meets Léon Dupuis, a law clerk bored with the town and seeking diversion. Charmed with the youthful mother, he walks home with her in the twilight, and Emma finds him sympathetic to her romantic ideas about life.

Later, Léon visits the Bovarys in company with Homais, the town chemist. Homais holds little soirees at the local inn, to which he invites the townsfolk. There, Emma’s acquaintance with Léon ripens. The townspeople gossip about the couple, but Charles is not acute enough to sense the nature of the interest Emma has in Léon.

Bored with Yonville and tired of loving in vain, Léon goes to Paris to complete his studies. He leaves Emma brokenhearted and deploring her weakness in not having given herself to Léon. She frets in her boredom and once more makes herself ill, but she has no time to become melancholy, for a stranger, Rodolphe Boulanger, has come to town. One day, he brought his farm tenant to Charles for bloodletting. Rodolphe, an accomplished lover, sees in Emma a promise of future pleasure. Emma realizes that if she gives herself to him, her surrender will be immoral. Nevertheless, she rationalizes her doubts by convincing herself that nothing as romantic and beautiful as love can be sinful.

Emma begins to deceive Charles, meeting Rodolphe, riding over the countryside with him, and listening to his urgent avowals of love. Finally, she succumbs to his persuasive appeals. She feels guilty at first but later identifies herself with adulterous heroines of fiction and believes that, like them, she now knows true romance. Sure of her love, Rodolphe no longer finds it necessary to behave like a gentle lover; he stops being punctual for his meetings with Emma, and though he continues to see her, she begins to suspect that his passion is dwindling.

Charles has become involved in Homais’s attempt to cure a boy of a clubfoot with a machine Charles designed. Both Homais and Charles are convinced that the success of their operation will raise their future standing in the community. After weeks of torment, however, the boy contracts gangrene, and his leg has to be amputated. Homais’s reputation is undamaged, however, for he is by profession a chemist, but Bovary, a doctor, is looked on with suspicion. His medical practice begins to suffer.

Disgusted with Charles’s failure, Emma, trying to hold Rodolphe, begins to spend money recklessly on jewelry and clothes, bringing her husband deeply into debt. She finally secures Rodolphe’s word that he will take her away, but on the very eve of what was to be her escape, she receives from him a letter in which he hypocritically repents of what he calls their sin. Distraught at the realization that she has lost him, she almost throws herself from the window but is saved when Charles calls to her. She becomes gravely ill with brain fever and lays near death for several months.

Emma’s convalescence is slow, but she is finally well enough to go to Rouen to the theater. The tender love scenes behind the footlights make Emma breathless with envy. Once more, she dreams of romance. In Rouen, she meets Léon Dupuis again. This time, Léon is determined to possess Emma. He listens to her complaints with sympathy, soothes her, and takes her driving. Emma, whose thirst for romance still consumes her, yields herself to Léon with regret that she had not done so before.

Charles Bovary grows concerned over his increasing debts. Adding to his own financial worries, the death of his father left his mother in ignorance about the family estate. Emma uses the excuse of procuring a lawyer for her mother-in-law to visit Léon in Rouen, where he has set up a practice. At his suggestion, she secures a power of attorney from Charles, a document that leaves her free to spend his money without his knowing of her purchases.

In despair over his debts, the extent of which Emma has only partly revealed, Charles takes his mother into his confidence and promises to destroy Emma’s power of attorney. Deprived of her hold over Charles’s finances and unable to repay her debts, Emma throws herself on Léon’s mercy with no regard for caution. Her corruption and her addiction to pleasure are now complete, but Emma begins to realize that she has brought her lover down with her. She no longer respects him, and she scorns his faithfulness when he is unable to give her money she needs to pay her bills. When her name is posted publicly for a debt of several thousand francs, the bailiff prepares to sell Charles’s property to settle her creditors’ claims. Charles is out of town when the debt is posted, and Emma, in one final act of self-abasement, appeals to Rodolphe for help. He, too, refuses to lend her money.

Knowing that the framework of lies with which she had deceived Charles is about to collapse, Emma Bovary resolves to die a heroine’s death. She swallows arsenic bought at Homais’s shop. Charles, returning from his trip, arrives too late to save her from a slow, painful death.

Pitiful in his grief, Charles can barely endure the sounds of the hammer as her coffin is nailed shut. Later, feeling that his pain over Emma’s death has grown less, he opens her desk, to find there the carefully collected love letters of Léon and Rodolphe. Broken with the knowledge of his wife’s infidelity, scourged with debt, and helpless in his disillusionment, Charles dies soon after his wife, leaving a legacy of only twelve francs for the support of his orphaned daughter.

Madame Bovary Summary

The narrative begins from the perspective of a French schoolboy, who records Charles Bovary’s first day in his class. Everyone stares at...

(The entire section is 1304 words.)

Madame Bovary Chapter Summaries

Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary

Madame Bovary begins on Charles Bovary’s first day at a boarding school. At fifteen, Charles is much older than most boys when they first leave home, but his parents have waited to enroll him in school to save money. He is placed in a class with younger students who ridicule him. Because of this, he remains aloof. He concentrates on his schoolwork and forms no close friendships.

Charles has grown up in the countryside. His father is a surly, superior man who failed at several occupations in his young adulthood and is now resigned to a life of discontent and idleness. Charles’s mother, who married her husband mainly because she thought him handsome, does all the work of running the household. It is she who...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary

One night Charles receives a note saying that Monsieur Rouault, a farmer who lives about twenty miles away, has broken his leg. Early the next morning, Charles rides out to Les Bertaux, Monsieur Rouault’s farm. There he meets Mademoiselle Emma Rouault, the farmer's daughter.

Mademoiselle Rouault seems quite charming to Charles. Her eyes look brown or black in different lights. After he finishes setting her father’s broken leg, Charles eats dinner with her. She complains about how much she hates living in the country, and as he listens, he privately admires her beauty.

When Charles is getting ready to leave, he realizes that he has misplaced his riding crop. He and Mademoiselle Rouault eventually find it...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 3 Summary

Shortly after Heloise dies, Monsieur Rouault stops at Charles’s house for a visit. After paying the medical bill for his broken leg, he offers a few words of comfort to the young widower. Monsieur Rouault is a widower himself, and he says that the grief of losing one’s love can last a long time. He adds that grieving is necessary but that one must not give up on life just because a loved one is gone.

Monsieur Rouault asks Charles to visit Les Bartaux, and Charles soon acts on the invitation. His host is very kind. Charles casually takes every opportunity to talk with Mademoiselle Rouault at Bartaux; they chat about their school experiences, their mothers, the funerals they have attended, and other topics of mutual...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 4 Summary

The wedding guests include the couple's families, as well as many of the people who live in the nearby towns. The guests all dress in their finest—which, given the provincial setting where they live, is not very fine at all. However, the procession is colorful as everyone walks from the church to the mayor’s office and back to Les Bartaux for the wedding feast. Emma frequently stops on the way to pick grass and thorns out of her gown. Charles’s mother walks arm-in-arm with Monsieur Rouault. Charles’s father watches the activities with an air of superiority, but he is not above flirting with the pretty young girls.

The wedding feast is abundant, with many different kinds of meat, baked goods, cider, and wine. The...

(The entire section is 422 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary

Charles’s unassuming little brick house fronts the main road that runs through Tostes. Its dining room is also the sitting room. The office where he sees medical patients is next to the kitchen; sounds and smells drift back and forth between the two. Upstairs there is a guest room and a master bedroom. Upon entering the latter for the first time, Emma immediately notices a bridal bouquet that belonged to Charles’s first wife. He grabs it and takes it up to the attic, leaving Emma to wonder what will happen to her bouquet when she dies.

For a few days, Emma makes minor changes in the house. She replaces the wallpaper, repaints a few rooms, and effects other improvements. She asks neighbors how to install a little...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 6 Summary

Chapter Six of Madame Bovary details Emma’s childhood and explains the origin of her romantic aspirations. Unlike Charles, Emma had a relatively happy life when she was young. At thirteen, her father sent her to school in a convent. A quick learner, she excelled in her classes. A naturally sensuous person, she was impressed by the dramatic setting and the beautiful religious images she saw at the convent. She even liked going to confession; sometimes she made up sins just to prolong the experience of telling them to the priest.

In school, Emma’s reading material was primarily religious. If she had been from the city, she might have liked the romantic descriptions of beautiful countryside that the nuns read...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 7 Summary

Emma tries to tell herself that she is currently living the best part of her life—the life of a newlywed. Nevertheless, she feels bored and depressed. She imagines that her new marriage would be better if she and Charles were honeymooning in a romantic place in the mountains or at the sea. In a vague way, she thinks that happiness can flourish in beautiful settings but not in the drab village of Tostes.

Emma is unable confide in Charles. He is so deeply immersed in his own contentment that he simply assumes she feels the same happiness. Furthermore, he is an unimaginative, incurious person who shows no interest in people, places, or activities outside his home. Emma soon grows resentful of him, even to the point of...

(The entire section is 440 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 8 Summary

The ball is exactly the kind of experience Emma has been craving, and she loves every moment of it. She gets to taste champagne, pineapple, and many other unfamiliar delicacies. She dines with the marquis and his guests. During the meal, she is especially impressed as she watches the marquis’ father-in-law, an aging man who, in his youth, lived at the royal court and supposedly had an affair with Marie-Antoinette.

After dinner, Emma carefully readies herself for the ball. After she gets dressed, she refuses to let Charles touch her in case he might clumsily ruin her appearance. She also forbids him to dance, advising him that dancing would be improper behavior for a doctor.

Emma herself dances a great...

(The entire section is 406 words.)

Part 1, Chapter 9 Summary

Emma often looks at the beautiful, richly embroidered cigar case from the marquis’s ball. In comparison, all of her own possessions seem drab. Her life seems drab too, entirely unlike the lives of the people she met at the marquis's chateau.

Eager to learn more about the lives of the wealthy, Emma subscribes to several women’s magazines and reads them voraciously. She learns all about the fashionable people in Paris, and she does her best to re-create bits and pieces of their lives for herself in Tostes. Charles is charmed by the many pretty embellishments she makes to their home and to her clothing. Emma considers them insufficient and constantly longs for more.

Charles has developed a good reputation...

(The entire section is 429 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary

Yonville-l’Abbaye is a one-street market town surrounded by pastures and farmland. It is located on the borders of several of France’s most important provincial regions, but it has not absorbed much of the character of any of them. The accents and traditions of the area lack flavor and personality.

In 1835, a good-quality road was built to Yonville-l’Abbaye, but the town has not grown or profited much from this development. It has remained a humble place of thatched huts, plebeian businesses, and unimaginative people. A few important residents have large houses. There is a church, a hotel, and a small covered market area. The most remarkable building is the pharmacy, with its well-lit windows full of colored glass...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 2 Summary

Emma climbs out of the coach, and the other passengers follow. Charles has fallen asleep, and somebody has to wake him up. Monsieur Homais greets the Bovarys and explains that he will join them for dinner at the hotel. They are also joined by a clerk named Monsieur Léon Dupuis, an educated young man who feels bored and stifled in Yonville.

During the meal, Monsieur Homais tells the Bovarys all about their new town. In particular, he tells them about the wonderful climate in great detail. He compares the local atmosphere to that of other regions and lists off the town’s high and low yearly temperatures according to three different scales of measurement.

Neither Monsieur Léon nor Emma Bovary shows the...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 3 Summary

People in Yonville respect Monsieur Léon because he is educated, quiet, respectful, and artistic. In spite of this, he dislikes the dusty little town. His life is dull, so dull that the dinner with the Bovarys feels like “a notable event.” To him, Emma is a real lady, far different and far more fascinating than the other women of Yonville. He is disappointed when he learns that they are not planning to eat with him at the hotel every night.

The pharmacist, Monsieur Homais, helps the Bovarys as much as he can during their transition. He makes this effort not out of kindness, but because he needs to be on Monsieur Bovary’s good side. Monsieur Homais frequently practices medicine without a license, seeing patients...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary

Emma watches the street out her window every day, and she always sees Monsieur Léon walking to and from work. It becomes a part of her routine to take note of his passing, and she does not question it. Often she waits until after he goes by in the evening before she orders the maid to set the table for dinner.

While Emma and Charles eat in the evenings, Monsieur Homais often comes to chat. He asks about Charles’s patients and relates the news from the day’s paper. He also delivers long lectures on the foods they are eating, explaining about the healthful qualities of the spices and advising Emma which pieces of meat are the most tender.

On Sundays, Charles and Emma usually visit the Homais household to...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 5 Summary

One snowy day in February, the Bovarys and several friends make a day trip to see a new flax mill that is under construction. This turns out to be a highly boring destination, and Monsieur Homais, who is in attendance, drones on incessantly about how much flax will be processed and how much impact the mill will have on the region’s economy. Monsieur Léon has come along, and during the afternoon Emma happens to make a mental comparison between her dull, badly dressed husband on the one hand, and the better looking and more interesting young clerk on the other.

Afterward, Emma sits at home alone while Charles goes to visit Monsieur Homais. She cannot stop thinking of Monsieur Léon, who looks like a young man in love....

(The entire section is 464 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 6 Summary

One day Emma hears church bells ringing and remembers her school years at the convent. Hoping to quiet her inner turmoil, she resolves to speak to the priest about her troubles. She walks to the churchyard, where she finds a group of boys who have come for a catechism class.

The priest, Bournisien, appears shortly. The boys go into the church, and Bournisien remains outside to greet Emma. She explains that she is “poorly,” and he advises her to seek medical advice from her husband. She says that she really needs spiritual guidance, but the priest does not listen. He launches into complaints about how hard priests have to work. Through the door of the church, he sees some boys misbehaving, and he rushes inside to...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 7 Summary

Now that it is too late to change her mind, Emma regrets that she did not take action and declare her love for Monsieur Léon. She remembers the good times she had with him, and she sinks into a state of idle depression, as she did after she attended the marquis’s ball near Tostes. In hopes of cheering herself up, she makes extravagant purchases at Monsieur Lheureux’s dry goods store—but even shopping fails to lift her mood.

Desperate for help, Charles invites his mother to come for a visit and look after Emma. The older woman says that Emma should be forced to work. Charles points out that his wife stays busy, but his mother responds with scorn. She says that all Emma does is read novels, an idle behavior which...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 8 Summary

The Agricultural Show is a grand affair. People come from all over the surrounding countryside, and everyone dresses up for the occasion. As the event begins, Monsieur Homais stops by the hotel and brags to Madame Lefrançois, the hotel owner, that he is one of the judges. She is in a bad mood because a business from out of town was hired to cater for the occasion, so she asks how a pharmacist can judge farm products. This question earns her a long lecture from Monsieur Homais about how pharmacists, being educated in chemistry, actually know more about farm products than farmers do.

Outside, Rodolphe finds Emma and takes her on a walk to see the sights. He steers her skillfully away from Monsieur Homais and the other...

(The entire section is 501 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 9 Summary

For six weeks, Rodolphe avoids Emma, telling himself that her desire for him will grow in his absence. When he finally does go to see her, she at first acts annoyed. He has been hunting and traveling a great deal since he last saw her, but he claims that he has been pining after her constantly. He even says that he has often stood outside her house late at night, thinking about her. His romantic language impresses her, but she tries to resist his advances.

When Charles arrives home, Emma is having trouble controlling her confused emotions. Rodolphe says that she seems ill. He suggests that it would be healthy for her to go out horseback riding, and he offers his own horses for the purpose. Emma understands Rodolphe’s...

(The entire section is 423 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 10 Summary

Emma soon realizes that Rodolphe is right; she needs to protect her reputation. After all, if she gets caught, she may not be able to see him anymore. One morning, on her way home from Rodolphe’s chateau, she meets Monsieur Binet, the local tax collector. He happens to be out duck hunting. They chat briefly, and she thinks he realizes her guilt. In fact, he is too busy worrying about his own guilt. He is breaking the local duck hunting laws, and he thinks she knows it.

After this encounter, Emma spends the day worrying that Monsieur Binet will tell someone what he has seen. She runs into him that afternoon at the pharmacist’s shop. In her nervousness, she grows so agitated that people think she is ill. But Monsieur...

(The entire section is 443 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 11 Summary

One day, Monsieur Homais reads about a new medical operation that can cure clubfoot, an inborn deformity that makes a person’s foot grow twisted. Eager to bring scientific advances to Yonville, Monsieur Homais pressures Charles to study this operation and try it out on Hippolyte, a clubfooted man who works as a horse groom at the local hotel. Emma, who feels that she could love Charles if he distinguished himself in his career, supports Monsieur Homais's plan.

Charles is at first reluctant to try operating on Hippolyte, who gets along fine in spite of his disability. However, Emma and Monsieur Homais make him think he can pull off the operation. Eventually he orders some medical books and begins studying the...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 12 Summary

Emma constantly complains to Rodolphe that her life is horrible. One day when he snaps that he cannot do anything about it, she replies that he can. She begs him to take her away. He brushes her off, but she does not forget the idea.

Charles’s recent failure with the clubfoot operation has renewed Emma’s disgust for him. Her feelings for the two men have a curious connection to each other. The more she hates Charles, the more she loves Rodolphe. Every time she comes home after seeing Rodolphe, Charles seems worse than before.

Monsieur Lheureux, the owner of the dry goods store in Yonville, frequently lets Emma have pretty objects for herself on credit. He never bothers her about paying her bills, so she...

(The entire section is 600 words.)

Part 2, Chapter 13 Summary

At home, Rodolphe rummages through a box of letters, trinkets, and locks of hair from women. As he examines the letters and keepsakes from Emma, he gets them mixed up with his souvenirs from his many other lovers. He ends up tossing everything back in the box, telling himself that relationships are all “nonsense.” He believes this. He has had so many mistresses and spent so much time lying and scheming to get them that he is no longer capable of the pure emotion of love.

Rodolphe writes Emma a long letter about how he fears he will ruin her life unless her breaks off their relationship. He says that he wishes he did not have to hurt her, but that she will surely regret running away if she goes through with it. He...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Part 2, Chapters 14-15 Summary

In addition to his problems with Emma, Charles experiences problems with money. He cannot pay Monsieur Homais for the medicines he uses in his medical practice. Expenses for household supplies add up faster now that the maid has control of them. Local shopkeepers, especially Monsieur Lheureux, keep trying to make him pay strange bills. Just when Emma’s illness is at its worst, Monsieur Lheureux shows up with a cloak, a trunk, and a bag. Charles swears that these were never ordered, but the shopkeeper demands payment anyway. The bills add up so much that Charles ends up having to borrow money from Monsieur Lheureux at a very bad interest rate.

Far from feeling angry at Emma for spending so much, Charles feels guilty...

(The entire section is 919 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 1 Summary

Ever since he left Yonvill, Léon has been studying and working hard. His good looks and his poetic streak have made him popular with women, so he has had a few romances. However, he is a relatively timid man who has not taken these relationships too far. Moreover, a ghost of his passion for Emma has always remained in the back of his mind.

Léon’s love for Emma returns in full force when he sees her in Rouen. She still strikes him as the perfect woman, but now that his experience has expanded somewhat, she does not seem quite so unapproachable. The morning after the opera, he goes to see her at her hotel. Charles has already left, so the two of them are able to talk alone. As they catch up, they both neglect to...

(The entire section is 542 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 2 Summary

Emma returns to Yonville, where she is met with a message asking her to stop by the Homais household before she returns home. She finds Monsieur Homais shouting at his assistant, Justin, for entering a room that contains a bottle of arsenic, a powerful poison. Emma hovers on the sidelines as Monsieur Homais berates the boy. When she manages to grab Monsieur Homais's attention, he informs her that her father-in-law is dead.

After hearing this bad news, Emma goes home and finds Charles distraught. She asks a few polite questions about his father. Then she falls silent, thinking of Léon. Charles assumes that she is being quiet because she is grieving. He continues in this assumption throughout his period of mourning....

(The entire section is 445 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 3 Summary

Emma’s three days in Rouen are like “a real honeymoon.” She and Léon stay at a hotel by the river, where they spend most of the time shut up with all the doors locked. They fling flowers all over the room and order cold drinks whenever they feel like it. In the evenings they rent a boat to take them out to a small island, where they find a little restaurant. After eating dinner, they find a patch of grass and sit embracing each other in the cool night air. At these moments, they both wish that they could spend years on the island getaway, “like two Robinson Crusoes.” They are so lovesick that the trees and sky and water all seem more beautiful than ever before:

It was as though nature had not...

(The entire section is 440 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 4 Summary

Léon’s new relationship with Emma has bad effects on his behavior. He begins acting superior to the other clerks in his office. His work grows sloppy because he spends all of his time thinking about his lover and reading her letters. He writes to Emma constantly and grows steadily more obsessed with schemes to see her again. One day he gets fed up with missing her. He boards a coach and, a while later, arrives in Yonville for a surprise visit.

To Léon, Yonville looks even smaller and less significant than it did before. He regards the place with both nostalgia and superiority. The villagers welcome him like a hero returning home, exclaiming over his appearance and asking how he is doing. He eats dinner at the hotel,...

(The entire section is 434 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 5 Summary

Every Thursday morning, Emma gets up early and rushes to get ready to meet the coach to Rouen. She is always the first passenger to arrive. When it is time to leave, she takes her seat eagerly and watches out the window for the landmarks along the route.

Emma and Léon meet at the same hotel room every week. Inside their room, they hug and kiss eagerly. Then they tell each other everything that has happened to them since they last saw each other. After that, they retire to the bed. They enjoy every moment they spend together until they are forced to return to their normal lives.

Emma’s trip home is never as exciting as her trip to Rouen. On the way, she always feels sad and dreary. She watches the...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 6 Summary

Whenever Léon visits Yonville, he stops by the pharmacy to see Monsieur Homais, and they idly plan to have lunch in Rouen together sometime. One Thursday, when Léon and Emma are supposed to meet, Monsieur Homais suddenly shows up at Léon’s work. Léon sees no way out of the lunch invitation, so he goes along. He repeatedly tries to get away, claiming that he has to go back to work, but Monsieur Homais refuses to hear of it.

Monsieur Homais's visit goes on for hours. At one point, Léon manages to get away briefly to confer with Emma in secret. She orders him to get rid of the old bore and spend the rest of the day with her. He tries, but Monsieur Homais proves difficult to shake off. Emma waits most of the day,...

(The entire section is 568 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 7 Summary

The next day, a debt collector sends two men to take inventory of the Bovarys’ possessions. Emma watches them quietly as they add up the value of her kitchen pots and undergarments. She makes her maid, Félicité, watch for Charles, who has no idea that his wife’s spending has gotten so out of control.

The next day, Emma rushes to Rouen and sees several bankers, but they all refuse to lend her any money. In desperation, she knocks on Léon’s door and begs him to pay her debt for her. She tells him everything, but there is nothing he can do. He does not have such a huge sum of money. Emma demands that he get her a smaller amount, suggesting that he is either weak or uncharitable if he cannot help.

Léon...

(The entire section is 431 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 8 Summary

When Rodolphe sees Emma, his first thought is that she looks more beautiful than ever. She complains that he broke her heart, and she asks him to become her lover again. He seems ready to agree until she confesses that she needs money. Then he realizes that this is the only reason for her visit. He tells her that he does not have the money.

Emma grows furious. In an ugly outburst, she points out Rodolphe’s expensive possessions and reminds him of the money he spends on hobbies and vacations. Surely a man who spends so much on himself can spend a few thousand on a friend. Rodolphe grows angry, but he stays calm. He firmly tells her that he cannot help her. Inwardly, he reflects that if he had the money, he would...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 9 Summary

When his wife is dead, Charles sobs and clings to her body. Monsieur Homais tells him that this is all right; it is better to grieve now and get the feelings out. Returning home, Monsieur Homais rushes around to tell people the news and to write an article about Emma’s death. He invents a convenient fiction about accidental poisoning to cover up her suicide.

At first, Charles says he does not want a funeral for his wife. Monsieur Homais makes him see reason, and Charles demands an exorbitantly expensive burial, complete with three expensive coffins and a velvet shroud. Monsieur Homais argues against this as well, but this time Charles gets his way.

The evening before the funeral, many people drop by to...

(The entire section is 429 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 10 Summary

Monsieur Rouault has ridden to Yonville without knowing for certain whether Emma is alive or dead. He received a letter from Monsieur Homais a few days ago, but the wording was so unclear that Monsieur Rouault was left with the impression that his daughter might only be very sick. Throughout his journey, he has been tormenting himself, alternately seeing death omens and inventing imaginary miracles. When he finally learns the truth, he is inconsolable.

The funeral is acted out properly, according to convention. Charles forces himself to be stoic throughout the ceremony and the burial. Privately he wishes he could throw everyone out and grieve alone, without regard for appearances—but instead he sits in a church pew...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Part 3, Chapter 11 Summary

Charles tells Berthe, his little daughter, that her maman is away on a trip. Berthe eventually forgets all about her mother. She is quite a happy child. Her cheerfulness is difficult for Charles, but he loves Berthe dearly.

As if the debt Emma accrued with Monsieur Lheureux were not enough by itself, Charles is forced to pay for piano lessons Emma never took and for mysterious letters whose purpose he cannot fathom. As more and more bills appear, Charles tries to collect medical payments from several of his patients—but he discovers that Emma already did this. Eventually, he simply borrows more money to pay the debts. He sells most of his possessions and sinks into poverty.

As Charles loses...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear