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. She wonders whom he loves, and suddenly she realizes that he loves her. Briefly, she feels full of warmth and joy. But this happy moment is followed quickly by her usual melancholy. After all, this love has entered her life too late for her to act upon it.
For some time after this, Emma acts the part of the perfect wife, returning to the same cheery habits that she had when she was first married. She warms Charles’s slippers for him in the evenings, makes her house as pretty as she can, and refuses to make petty splurges at the dry goods store. When she sees Monsieur Léon, she acts cold. For a while, she feels happy and invigorated by her resolution to take the moral path and adhere to her marriage vows.
Monsieur Léon notices Emma’s behavior and grows convinced that she does not love him. He falls into despair, berating himself for having hoped that she might develop feelings for him. He retreats from her life somewhat, never guessing that Emma’s sudden coldness is her confused response to loving him.
Emma’s moral resolve fades quickly, and her outward composure hides an inner life “torn by wild desires, by rage, by hatred.” She hates Charles because he does not understand how much she suffers for the sake of their marriage. In her mind, he becomes “the obstacle to every kind of happiness.”
Soon, seeing the way Monsieur Léon pulls away from her, Emma grows convinced that he has stopped loving her. Her grief increases, and she wonders why she did not do what she wanted when she had the chance. One day the maid, Félicité, finds Emma sobbing and asks if she is ill. She says that it is just nerves, and Félicité replies that she once knew a girl who experienced depression like Emma’s until she got married. Emma replies, “With me…it was after I was married that it began.”