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 jars.
The hotel in Yonville is busy on the night the Bovarys are supposed to arrive. Madame Lefrançois, the owner of the hotel, rushes around preparing dinner for the Bovarys and her regular guests. As she works, she barks orders at her staff and chats with the town pharmacist, Monsieur Homais.
Monsieur Homais, an opinionated man, complains about Madame Lefrançois’s unwillingness to buy a new billiards table. When she shrugs him off, he grumbles about a rude tax collector who always eats dinner at the hotel, and about a priest who stops by to ask a question but refuses to sit down and have a drink. In Monsieur Homais’s opinion, this proves that the priest is a hypocrite. After all, everyone knows that members of the clergy drink heavily in private.
Monsieur Homais’s comments anger Madame Lefrançois, who accuses him of having “no respect for religion.” Monsieur Homais insists that he believes in God on a philosophical level but has “no use for” the God of the Bible. In his mind, it is ridiculous to worship a divine being who performs miracles, punishes people, and comes back to life after death. As Monsieur Homais waxes eloquent on this topic, he imagines that he has a large, attentive audience. However, Madame Lefrançois is the only person present, and she is too busy to bother listening.
The Bovarys arrive later than expected. The townspeople all go out to meet the coach driver, Hivert, who often carries messages and makes deliveries for them. He explains that Emma’s dog got loose on the way to Yonville and that they stopped to try to chase it down. Emma cried a great deal when they gave up the search, and the other passengers tried to cheer her up by telling her stories about dogs that went missing and then returned to their owners long afterward.