Part 2, Chapter 8 Summary

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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 bores of Yonville. As he does so, he drops comments suggesting that Emma is superior to the simple country folk around her. Then he complains that he is a lonely man who cannot find anyone who understands him.

Emma and Rodolphe watch a parade together. Afterward, they climb to the top floor of the town hall, where a presentation about agriculture is beginning. Rodolphe draws her into the quietest part of the room. As a local official delivers a long-winded speech about French politics and the necessity of agriculture, Rodolphe whispers to Emma that he is falling for her. He says that society makes rules about morality only to stifle happiness, and that it is actually good and right for someone in an unhappy marriage to seek love elsewhere:

Our duty is to feel what is great and love what is beautiful—not to accept all the social conventions and the infamies they impose on us!

As Rodolphe makes this appeal to Emma, the speaker drones on about the effects of flax and apples on the political development of the French nation. He fancies that everyone is fascinated, but in fact, most of the audience is asleep. Rodolphe keeps up his whispering through a second official’s speech—this one about agriculture’s relation to religion and human development—and through a presentation of awards for farmers and farm products. Thus Rodolphe’s smooth declarations of love are punctuated by announcements about prize hogs and fertilizers.

After this ceremony, Emma joins her husband for a fireworks show. Rodolphe watches from afar as Charles and Emma stand arm in arm together. The show is quite amateurish. The fireworks have been stored improperly, and most of them are too damp to go off. Some do not light, and others just make a few pathetic sparks. Nevertheless, Monsieur Homais frets loudly about burns and fires.

A week later, Monsieur Homais publishes a review of the Agricultural Show in the local paper. The contents are highly affected by his unique perspective. He inflates his own importance in the proceedings, waxes eloquent about the government’s responsibility to do more to help the peasant class, and insults the clergy for failing to appear at the important event.

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