novel’s protagonist, the Madame Bovary of the title. A country girl
educated in a convent and married to Charles Bovary at a young age,
she harbors idealistic romantic illusions, covets sophistication, sensuality,
and passion, and lapses into fits of extreme boredom and depression
when her life fails to match the sentimental novels she treasures.
She has a daughter, Berthe, but lacks maternal instincts and is often
annoyed with the child. Occasionally, guilt or a memory of her simple
childhood causes her to repent, and she becomes devoutly religious
and dedicates herself to her husband and child. Such fits of conscience are
short-lived. Emma’s desire for passion and pleasure leads her into
extramarital affairs with Rodolphe and Leon. In addition, she runs
up enormous debts against her husband’s property and commits suicide
when she realizes she will be unable to repay them.
in-depth analysis of Emma Bovary.
country doctor, kind, but simple, dull, and unremarkable. Charles
is a terrible doctor who manages simple cases decently but is incapable
of performing difficult operations. For example, when he tries to
operate on Hippolyte’s leg, it develops gangrene and has to be removed.
Charles dotes on his wife, Emma, who can do no wrong in his eyes.
Only his mother holds as much sway over him as his wife, and even
she loses control over him after his marriage. Despite his deep
love for Emma, he doesn’t understand her. Her looks and dress captivate
him, but he remains oblivious to her personality. His adoration
of her often leads him to act with baffling innocence. He fails
to detect her extramarital affairs with Rodolphe and Leon, which
are so poorly concealed that they become the subjects of town gossip.
When Emma begins to run up debts, he grants her power of attorney
over all his property, an act that leads to his financial ruin.
After Emma’s suicide, he learns of her infidelities and, soon after,
dies a broken man.
in-depth analysis of Charles Bovary.
- The apothecary at Yonville; a pompous, self-impressed
man of the bourgeois class who helps Charles become established
as a doctor in the town. Homais is superficial and obnoxious. He
loves to hear himself talk, and his lengthy commentaries are filled with
clichés. His pomposity can cause real harm, as when he encourages
Charles to operate on Hippolyte to disastrous effect. An irreligious
man, Homais often argues with Bournisien, the town priest, claiming
that religion and prayer are useless. Homais is the perfect embodiment
of all the bourgeois values and characteristics that so disgust
Flaubert and bore his heroine, Emma.
in-depth analysis of Monsieur Homais.
friend in Yonville, who later becomes her lover. When Leon is a
law clerk in Yonville, he shares many of Emma’s romantic preconceptions
and her love for sentimental novels. He falls in love with her but
moves away to Paris to study law, partly because he considers their
love impossible as long as she remains married. When Emma meets
him later in Rouen, his time in the city has made him more sure
of himself. He now perceives Emma to be unsophisticated and thinks
he can win her love. Although Emma believes him to be cosmopolitan,
Flaubert presents him as awkward and full of himself. Drawn to his
newfound urban sophistication, Emma begins an affair with him. At first,
they succeed in living up to one another’s romantic ideals. However,
as the affair progresses, Emma and Leon grow increasingly bored
and disgusted with one another. He cannot help her when she is in monetary
distress and makes excuses for failing to help her financially.
Leon marries shortly after Emma’s death.
- Emma’s first lover, a wealthy landowner with an
estate near Yonville. Rodolphe is shrewd, selfish, and manipulative.
He has had scores of lovers and believes Emma to be no more sincere
than any of them. He plots his seduction of Emma with strategic precision,
begins an affair with her, and then abandons her when he becomes
bored of her romantic fancies and emotional demands.
- A sly, sinister merchant and moneylender in Yonville
who leads Emma into debt, financial ruin, and eventually suicide
by playing on her weakness for luxury and extravagance. Lheureux
is a bit of a devil figure who tempts people with luxuries they
can’t afford and knows just when to appear with his requests for
money and promises of more loans.
- The town priest in Yonville, Bournisien tends to
focus more on worldly matters than on spiritual ones. He often argues
with Homais about the value of religion, but seems incapable of
grasping deep spiritual problems.
crippled servant at the inn in Yonville. Under pressure from Emma
and Homais, Charles attempts to operate on Hippolyte’s club foot.
The operation fails, gangrene sets in, and Hippolyte loses his leg.
and Emma’s daughter, who is condemned to a life of poverty by her
mother’s financial excesses and her parents’ deaths.
tax collector in Yonville. Binet takes his meals regularly at the
Lion d’Or inn. He is quiet, and amuses himself by making napkin
rings on the lathe in his attic.
first employer, the well-to-do lawyer in Yonville. When Emma seeks
his help with her financial hardship, he offers his assistance in
return for sexual favors—an offer she angrily declines.
father, a simple, essentially kindly farmer with a weakness for
drink. He is devoted both to Emma and to the memory of his first
wife, whom he loved deeply.
esteemed doctor from Rouen who is called in after Emma takes arsenic
at the end of the novel. He is coldly analytical and condescending
to his inferiors, but he is brilliant and competent, and he feels
a real sympathy for his patients.
The elder Madame Bovary
- A bitter, conservative woman who spoiled her son
Charles as a youth and disapproves of his marriage to Emma. She
sees through Emma’s lies and tries to get Charles to rein in his
wife’s excessive spending, but she rarely succeeds.
assistant. Justin is young, impressionable, and simple. He falls
terribly in love with Emma and unwittingly gives her access to the
arsenic that she uses to commit suicide.
first wife. She realizes that Charles is enamored with Emma. Soon
after having this realization, she dies from the shock of having
all her property stolen by her lawyer.