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When Emma returns to Yonville after the masquerade, a court order awaits her, demanding that she pay 8,000 francs or lose all her property. She again goes to Lheureux for help, but he refuses to loan her any more money, sending her away. Lheureux hopes to foreclose on Charles’s estate and everything the Bovarys own.
The essential superficiality of Emma’s connection with Leon compounds the disaster of her financial indiscretions. Once her affair with Leon loses its early glow, Emma loses all sense of proportion and propriety, oscillating between extremes of self-indulgence, self-pity, depression, and guilt. Emma and Leon try to make one another into romantic ideals but fail to connect with each other as real individuals. As these ideals crumble around their actual personalities, they become increasingly disgusted with one another. Emma reacts by seeking pleasure at all costs and in more egregious ways. Her initial desire to be a cosmopolitan aristocrat gives way to a carnal, voracious desire for pleasure, evident in her escapades with vulgar men at unsavory parties. Poor Charles continues to facilitate his wife’s infidelity, funding the trips she takes to Rouen on the pretext of taking piano lessons. The blind beggar Emma sometimes encounters between Yonville and Rouen is one of the most terrifying figures in the novel. He is a symbol of Emma’s moral wretchedness, and his morbid presence also signals her approaching death.
Emma’s financial ruin parallels her moral ruin. Once she obtains the power of attorney over Charles’s finances, her destructive qualities spiral further out of control. Emma’s attempt to transcend the values of her middle-class existence fails as much out of her own free will as the circumstances in which she lives. Even Flaubert, who initially describes Emma as a victim of circumstance, has begun to judge her unfavorably. Emma’s moral corruption, however, remains dependent on the will of the men around her. At the end of Part Three, Chapter V, Leon wonders, “where could she have learnt this corruption so deep and well masked as to be almost unseizable?” The answer is Rodolphe. A man is responsible for even Emma’s deepest corruption.
Leon’s question at the end of Part Three, Chapter V is a classic example of free indirect discourse, a technique that Flaubert perfected. By this point in the novel, the narrative centers around Emma, but Flaubert at times shows his heroine through the eyes of others. He does not offset Leon’s and Charles’s thoughts with quotation marks, instead he writes directly the words that pass through their minds. At one point, Charles thinks, “What was the meaning of all these fits of temper?” Flaubert knows the answer, of course, but by using free indirect discourse, he lets us see for a moment how bewildered Charles is by Emma’s behavior.
Another of Flaubert’s techniques is the contrast between lofty, profound sentiments and mundane, ordinary things. Speaking of Leon’s love for Emma, he writes, “he admired the exaltation of her soul and the lace on her petticoat.” This contrast between spirituality and materiality discredits the depth of Leon’s love. He seems to love blindly, caring as much for Emma’s petticoats as for her soul. Flaubert employs a similar technique when he describes Emma and Leon’s weekly trysts in a hotel room. In a virtually identical tone, he describes both the lovers’ vows they exchange and the decorations on the mantelpiece. This juxtaposition renders the great otherworldly romance Emma conceives a small and sordid affair.
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