Last Updated on May 17, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1087
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Emma Bovary (boh-vah-REE), a sentimental young woman whose foolishly romantic ideas on life and love cause her to become dissatisfied with her humdrum husband and the circumstances of her married life. Her feelings of disillusionment lead her first into two desperate, hopeless love affairs and then to an agonizing and ugly death from arsenic poisoning. Filled with fiery, indefinite conceptions of love, which she is capable of translating only into gaudy bourgeois displays of materialism, she is unable to reconcile herself to a life of tedium as the wife of a country doctor. In her attempt to escape into a more exciting world of passion and dream, she drifts into shabby, sordid affairs with Rodolphe Bourlanger and Léon Dupuis. The first of these lovers, an older man, dominates the affair; the second, inexperienced and young, is dominated. Because Emma brings to both of these affairs little more than an insubstantial and frantic desire to escape her dull husband and the monotony of her life, the eventual collapse of her romantic dreams, the folly of her passionate surrender to passion and intrigue, and her death, brought on by false, empty pride, are inevitable.
Charles Bovary (shahrl), Emma’s well-meaning but docile and mediocre medical husband. An unimaginative clod without intelligence or insight, he is unable to understand, console, or satisfy the terrible needs of his wife. Every move he makes to become a more important figure in her sight is frustrated by his inadequacy as a lover and a doctor, for he is as much a failure in his practice as he is in his relations with Emma. Her suicide leaves him grief-stricken and financially ruined as the result of her extravagance. Soon after her death, he discovers in the secret drawer of her desk the love letters sent her by Rodolphe and Léon, and he learns of her infidelity for the first time. When he dies, the sum of twelve francs and seventy-five centimes is his only legacy to his small daughter.
Rodolphe Bourlanger (roh-DOHLF bewr-lahn-ZHAY), Emma Bovary’s first lover. A well-to-do bachelor and the owner of the Château La Huchette, he is a shrewd, suave, and brittle man with considerable knowledge of women and a taste for intrigue. Sensing the relationship between Emma and her husband, he makes friends with the Bovarys, sends them gifts of venison and fowls, and invites them to the chateau. On the pretext of concern for Emma’s health, he suggests that they go riding together. He finds Emma so easy a conquest that after a short time he begins to neglect her, partly out of boredom, partly because he cannot see in himself the Byronic image Emma has created in her imagination; she never sees Rodolphe as the loutish, vulgar man he is. After he writes her a letter of farewell, on the pretext that he is going on a long journey, Emma suffers a serious attack of brain fever.
Léon Dupuis (lay-OH[N] dew-PWEE), a young law clerk infatuated by Emma Bovary but without the courage to declare himself or to possess her. With him, she indulges herself in a progressively lascivious manner in her attempt to capture the excitement and passion of the romantic love she desires. Léon, because he lacks depth and maturity, merely intensifies Emma’s growing estrangement from her everyday world. When Léon, who never realizes the encouragement Emma offers him, goes off to continue his studies in Paris, she is filled with rage, hate, and unfulfilled desire, and a short time later she turns to Rodolphe Bourlanger. After that affair, she meets Léon once more in Rouen, and they become lovers. Oppressed by debts, living only for sensation, and realizing that she is pulling Léon down to her own degraded level, Emma ends the affair by committing suicide.
Monsieur Lheureux (lewr-REH), an unscrupulous, corrupt draper and moneylender who makes Emma the victim of his unsavory business deals by driving her deeper and deeper into debt. Her inability to repay the exorbitant loans he has made her in secret forces the issue of suicide upon her as her only escape from her baseless world.
Monsieur Homais (oh-MAY), a chemist, presented in a masterpiece of ironic characterization. A speaker in clichés, the possessor of a wholly trite “Scientific Outlook” on society, he regards himself as a modern man and a thinker. His pomposity and astoundingly superficial ideals become one of the remarkable facets of the novel, as Flaubert sketches the hypocrisy and mediocrity of Charles Bovary’s friend. Homais epitomizes the small-town promoter, raconteur, and self-styled liberal.
Hippolyte Tautain (ee-poh-LEET toh-TEH[N]), a mentally retarded, clubfooted boy operated on by Charles Bovary at the insistence of M. Homais, who wishes to bring greater glory to the region by proving the merits of a new surgical device. Bovary’s crude handling of the operation and the malpractice involved in the use of the device cause the boy to lose his leg. The episode provides Flaubert with an excellent commentary on both Homais and Bovary.
Théodore Rouault (tay-oh-DOHR rew-AHL), Emma Bovary’s father, a farmer. Charles Bovary first meets Emma when he is summoned to set Rouault’s broken leg.
Berthe Bovary (behrt), the neglected young daughter of Emma and Charles Bovary. Orphaned and left without an inheritance, she is sent to live with her father’s mother. When that woman dies, the child is turned over to the care of an aunt, who puts her to work in a cotton-spinning factory.
Captain Binet (bee-NAY), the tax collector in the town of Yonville-l’Abbaye.
Justin (zhews-TA[N]), the assistant in the shop of Mr. Homais. Emma persuades her young admirer to admit her to the room where poisons are kept. There, before horrified Justin can stop her, she secures a quantity of arsenic and eats it.
Madame Veuve Lefrançois
Madame Veuve Lefrançois (vehv leh-frah[n]-SWAH), the proprietress of the inn in Yonville-l’Abbaye. Hippolyte Tautain is the hostler at her establishment.
Félicité (fay-lee-see-TAY), the Bovarys’ maid.
Héloise Bovary (ayl-WAHZ), Charles Bovary’s first wife, a woman much older than he, who had deceived the Bovarys as to the amount of property she owned. Her death following a severe hemorrhage frees Charles from his nagging, domineering wife, and soon afterward he marries young Emma Rouault.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1698
Monsieur Binet, Yonville’s tax collector, does not often participate in the social life of the town. Monsieur Homais claims he is “a dead fish” with “no imagination, no wit, nothing of what makes a man a social light.” He serves as a foil to Emma when she runs into him one morning as she is returning from Boulanger’s estate. Emma turns to him for help when she is about to lose her home, but he refuses to help her. Two of the village women watch through the window, suspecting that Emma is “making advances to him,” which appears to be confirmed when he immediately jumps back exclaiming, “What are you thinking of, Madame?” The women see this as evidence of Binet’s courage.
Monsieur Rodolphe Boulanger
Rodolphe Boulanger, a thirty-four-year-old country squire, is “cynical in temperament and keen of intellect.” He seduces Emma during a horseback ride in the woods after a careful manipulation of her feelings. When he first meets her, he immediately comprehends the problems in her relationship with Charles and so determines that she will be vulnerable to him. He notes that she has been starved for passion and eloquent words of love and so tells her that some force beyond his control drove him to her. His ability to understand her predicament and provide her with the romantic words and the attention she craves causes her to fall in love with him.
His callous and shallow nature become apparent in his decision to discard her after their affair begins to bore him. He decides that Emma is like all mistresses: “the charm of newness, slipping down little by little like a garment, revealed unclothed the eternal monotony of passion.”
Abbé Bournisien, Yonville’s priest, suggests his lack of perception when Emma comes to him, trying to explain her unhappiness and looking for strength to resist her feelings for Léon. He insists to Emma that any woman who has enough to eat and a fire in winter should be perfectly happy. As a result of his lack of understanding, she does not confide in him and turns her back on religion as a source of comfort.
Berthe Bovary is the daughter of Charles and Emma Bovary.
From the beginning of the novel, Flaubert characterizes Charles as dull, dim, and graceless. The narrator notes that his conversation was “flat as the sidewalk of the street and the ideas of everyone he spoke to passed through it without exciting emotion, laughter, or contemplation.” Charles has few interests besides his family. He does not care about the theater or books and has never learned any skills like swimming or fencing that would make him an interesting companion or husband. His name suggests his “bovine,” cud-chewing personality.
Many of Charles’s patients in both Tostes and Yonville, however, appreciate his lack of airs. They also admire his sense of responsibility. Yet his inability to develop a firm grasp of the intricacies of his profession results in his botching of a clubfoot operation, and his patient subsequently suffers the amputation of his leg.
Charles adores Emma, which, combined with his weak will, allows her to control his life. He turns a blind eye to her financial extravagances and her attentions to other men, which Emma usually does not take great pains to hide. His lack of perception extends to his relationship with her. Often, Charles has no idea what Emma is thinking or feeling, unless her health obviously begins to deteriorate. His lack of ambition and his country habits, coupled with his weak nature, irritate and depress Emma. Yet Charles is ever loyal to her, even after he discovers that she has been having affairs with Rodolphe Boulanger and Léon Dupuis. His intense love for her ultimately destroys him, however. Soon after she commits suicide, Charles wastes away and dies.
Monsieur Charles-Denis-Bartholomé Bovary
Monsieur Bovary, Charles’s father, was a former assistant surgeon-major. After he was forced to leave the service, Bovary found a wife with a large dowry so he could live comfortably. He failed, however, at farming, since he drank and ate up his profits. Eventually, Charles’s vain, braggart father became a bitter drunk, “disgusted with humanity” in his later years.
Madame Emma Bovary
Emma’s sensuality becomes apparent as soon as Charles meets her. While she is sewing, she pricks her fingers and raises them up to her mouth to suck them. Later, she licks every drop of liquor from the bottom of a glass with her tongue. Charles does not encourage this quality in her. Soon after they are married, she becomes bored by the monotony of their life together.
Discontented with her life on the farm, she agrees to marry Charles, confusing her desire for a better, more comfortable life with feelings of love for him. She had thought herself in love with Charles before they married, but those feelings failed to materialize. Soon after their marriage, she waits for a dramatic event to transform her life. When none occurs and she finds no fulfillment in her relationship with him, she develops an appreciation for the things money can buy. The narrator notes that she “confused, in her longing, the sensual appeals of luxury with the joys of the heart, elegance of manners with delicacy of sentiment.” Her desire to live a life full of luxury leads to her destruction.
Frustrated by her inability to afford the lifestyle she feels she deserves, Emma turns to other men to satisfy her passionate nature. Her romantic vision of love, however, destroys her relationships, not only with her husband but also with her lovers. When Charles fails to live up to her expectations of what a man should be, she dreams about finding lovers like those she reads about in sentimental novels. When her marriage provides none of the passion she finds in these books, she wonders “just what was meant, in real life, by the words felicity, passion and intoxication, which had seemed so beautiful” on the page.
She falls in love with Léon and Rodolphe when they compare favorably to Charles. However, neither can live up to her romantic vision of love. As a result, she alienates both men. Inevitably, she rediscovers in adultery all the uniformity of marriage. As she drains “every pleasure by wishing it to be too intense,” she succumbs to a “universal numbness” that, coupled with her financial troubles, prompts her to commit suicide.
Madame Héloïse Bovary
Héloïse Bovary, Charles’s first wife, is a fortyfive- year-old wealthy widow when Charles marries her. Charles is not content with this woman, whom his mother determined he should marry, finding her ugly and thin. She takes control of the household and complains incessantly of her health, which turns out to be actually quite frail. When her family loses its fortune, and Charles’s parents angrily accuse her of fraud, she falls ill and dies.
Mrs. Bovary, Charles’s mother, had once adored her husband, which irritated him. When she was first married, she was a happy and affectionate woman, but as she was forced to face her husband’s infidelities and overindulgences, she became difficult, irritable, and nervous. She swallowed her frustration “in a mute stoicism.” Unhappy with her marriage, she spoiled Charles, transferring to him all of her lost ambitions.
She tries to extend her control over Charles after he becomes an adult by choosing his wife. Her control slips, however, when Charles marries Emma, whom Madame Bovary considers “too refined in her airs for their financial position.” She also becomes jealous of Charles’s love for Emma. In an effort to reassert her dominance, she makes frequent visits to the couple and continually corrects Emma’s housekeeping.
Monsieur Léon Dupuis
Emma meets Léon Dupuis, a lawyer’s clerk, soon after she and Charles move to Yonville. Léon has the same romantic sensibility as does Emma; his thoughts, like hers, are constantly “interweaving with fiction.” He admits to her that his heart “becomes involved” with the characters he reads about, as it “beats underneath their costumes.” Emma and Léon feed off each other’s romantic imagination as they consummate their relationship. When they link hands, “the past, the future, reminiscences and dreams, all were blended in the charm” of the moment.
Eventually Léon tries to revolt against Emma’s absorption of his personality. Yet his timid nature allows her to dominate him, even as his affection for her wanes. Even after he becomes bored by her demands, he is indecisive about their future, allowing her to dictate when and where they meet.
Fourteen years old when she comes to work as Emma’s maid, Félicité is an orphan “with a sweet face.” Emma tries to make a ladies’ maid of her and Félicité obeys without question. However, after Emma dies, she steals most of her clothes. Monsieur Homais Monsieur Homais, the pharmacist, is the Bovarys’ neighbor. The pompous Homais pontificates about religion, society, and human nature, which does not earn him many friends. He tries to hide his illegal medical activities and treats Charles with exceptional kindness in order to ensure that Charles will not turn him in to the authorities. Charles, however, is too unobservant to notice.
Justin, a boy who works in the pharmacy, falls in love with Emma—so much so that he cannot refuse her when she asks him to let her into the cabinet where Monsieur Homais keeps arsenic. Madame Lefrançois Madame Lefrançois, the widowed innkeeper at Yonville, complains and gossips a great deal about her customers.
Monsieur Lhereux, Yonville’s linen draper, encourages Emma’s extravagant spending habits through clever sales tactics. Initially “polite to the point of obsequiousness,” Lhereux grovels in front of his customers until he makes a sale. He convinces Emma to purchase expensive items that she cannot afford by preying on her desire for elegance and allowing her to buy on credit. When Emma’s bills mount, he demands payment and shows no remorse or consideration for her dilemma.