Both of these novels follow their female protagonist closely, each woman on a lifelong search for independence, self-expression, and love. As they navigate relationships with men and changes in their financial security, readers often get a close, insightful look into their emotional states.
Let’s take a look at some of the more striking passages.
For Emma Bovary, in Chapter 9 of Part 1, we get a glimpse into her loneliness in spite of being married, her restlessness, and her (somewhat selfish) desire for something more interesting to happen in her life:
“She confided many a thing to her greyhound. She would have done so to the logs in the fireplace or to the pendulum of the clock.
At the bottom of her heart, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like shipwrecked sailors, she turned despairing eyes upon the solitude of her life, seeking afar off some white sail in the mists of the horizon.”
Later, in Chapter 6 of Part 3, we get a glimpse of Emma’s ennui, with her dissatisfaction with everything in life. And yet her emotional state and her thoughts reveal that she’s starting to become less naïve about the world, if not any less self-centered:
“She was not happy—she never had been. Whence came this insufficiency in life—this instantaneous turning to decay of everything on which she leant? But if there were somewhere a being strong and beautiful, a valiant nature, full at once of exaltation and refinement, a poet's heart in an angel's form, a lyre with sounding chords ringing out elegiac epithalamia to heaven, why, perchance, should she not find him? Ah! how impossible! Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, all pleasure satiety, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight.”
Now let’s turn to The Portrait of a Lady.
For Isabel Archer, in Volume 1, Chapter 6, we get an insight into her willingness to someday fall in love and love deeply, and we also see how easily ashamed she feels if she believes she’s being too self-centered (which I point out because it provides such a contrast with Emma). Here’s that look into her emotions and thoughts:
“Deep in her soul—it was the deepest thing there—lay a belief that if a certain light should dawn she could give herself completely; but this image, on the whole, was too formidable to be attractive. Isabel's thoughts hovered about it, but they seldom rested on it long; after a little it ended in alarms. It often seemed to her that she thought too much about herself; you could have made her colour, any day in the year, by calling her a rank egoist.”
Later, we see Isabel being less hopeful. Here she is in Chapter 52 of Volume 2:
“Nothing seemed of use to her to-day. All purpose, all intention, was suspended [...] She envied Ralph his dying, for if one were thinking of rest that was the most perfect of all. To cease utterly, to give it all up and not know anything more—this idea was as sweet as the vision of a cool bath in a marble tank, in a darkened chamber, in a hot land.”
This particular look into Isabel's emotional state reveals a thoughtfulness, a bit of jadedness, and altogether an increasing awareness that life is not always about travelling and excitement and pleasure. It's a lesson that Emma never really grasps.