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, as he always used to do when he lived in town. Eventually he gathers his courage and knocks on the Bovarys’ door.
Charles seems happy to see Léon, as does Emma—although she is forced to behave with the cool distance of propriety while they are under the scrutiny of her husband and her town. During Léon’s visit, they find only one brief chance to meet alone. On that occasion, they cling to each other, and Emma promises to find a way to visit Rouen on a regular basis.
Soon after Léon leaves, Emma resumes her old hobby of playing piano. She constantly stops halfway through the music and complains that she makes too many mistakes. At first Charles just tells her that she is being too hard on herself. After that, she increases the number of mistakes she makes so that even he can hear how bad the music sounds.
Charles sees that Emma is unhappy with the state of her music education, so he urges her to take lessons. She waves off this suggestion, saying it is too expensive. He soon finds an inexpensive teacher, who is free to give her an occasional lesson. She replies that there is no point taking lessons only occasionally. Charles ultimately drops the idea.
Emma stops playing the piano for a while, and everyone in town notices. They all act sorry for her, and they grumble in Charles’s hearing that he is a cheapskate for refusing to pay for piano lessons for his wife. Eventually he suggests that Emma take regular weekly lessons, and she jumps at the idea. She makes arrangements for a weekly trip to Rouen—supposedly to study music, but really to see Léon. As soon as she begins these trips, her piano playing improves miraculously.