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 for fun. However, being from the country, Emma was too well acquainted with the dullness of pastoral life to have been impressed by descriptions of it. She was more impressed by writing that expresses deep emotion.

Emma became immersed in romantic literature at the convent. An old spinster who did the weekly washing for the nuns and the students sometimes lent her romantic novels to the older girls. The content of Emma's reading at this time is captured in a passage from Chapter Six:

. . . gloomy forests, broken hearts, vows, sobs, tears and kisses, skiffs in the moonlight, nightingales in thickets; the noblemen [are] all as brave as lions, gentle as lambs, incredibly virtuous, always beautifully dressed, and [weep] copiously on every occasion.

Emma drank in such romantic stories, and she loved sentimental songs and images, as well. These early influences formed her emotional life. Thus, when her mother died, she fell into the kind of melancholy that typically afflicts the grieving heroines of the books she had read. Her mourning held a perverse enjoyment for her, and she continued out of habit to act depressed long after her genuine grief dissipated.

Eventually Emma realized that life in the convent was not right for her. She loved the music, poetry, and religious images, but she was not greatly moved by religion itself. Her emotionally fickle nature made her somewhat difficult, so in spite of her brilliance as a student, the nuns were relieved when her father took her home. Although she was only in her teens, Emma returned home feeling strongly "that she [was] cured of illusions—that she [had] nothing more to learn, and no great emotions to look forward to."

When she met Charles, Emma had been bored, in need of a change. Unused to men, she quickly had confused infatuation with love. Now that she is married, she finds it impossible to accept that she will spend the rest of her life leading a boring country life with Charles Bovary.