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[S]he would know well enough how one single glance would reawaken their lost love.
Officers come to the Bovarys’ house to inventory their belongings, which they intend to seize to pay Emma’s debts. They leave a guard behind; Emma hides him in the attic to keep the development secret from Charles. She schemes and plans to raise the 8,000 francs. The bankers in Rouen refuse to loan her the money, however, and Leon angrily refuses to steal the money from his employer. However, he does halfheartedly agree to try to raise the money from among his friends and bring it to her in Yonville. Upon her return home, Emma gives her very last five-franc piece to the blind beggar. She finds that a public notice has been posted in Yonville announcing the auction of the Bovarys’ belongings.
Emma goes to see the town lawyer, Guillaumin, who agrees to help her in return for sexual favors. Emma angrily refuses his offer and leaves. Charles has still not returned home and has no idea what is transpiring, but all the people of Yonville gossip and wonder what will happen. Two of the townswomen spy from an attic window as Emma goes to see Binet, the tax collector, in the attic where he is amusing himself by making napkin-rings on a lathe. They see Emma beg for more time to pay her taxes, then attempt to seduce Binet. When he rebuffs her, Emma decides to go to Rodolphe, hoping that what she believes is his love for her will enable her to get the money from him by offering herself in return.
Rodolphe is indeed aroused by the sight of Emma, but when he realizes the purpose of her visit, he becomes taciturn, and tells her he has no money available. Emma angrily leaves, realizing the full extent of her desperate situation. She goes to Homais’s apothecary shop, where she convinces Justin to let her into the cabinet where she knows the arsenic is kept. She eats a big handful of it straight from the bottle, then returns home, feeling at peace. Charles has learned about the auction and searches frantically for Emma. He finds her in bed, and she gives him a letter, ordering him not to open it until the next day.
At first, Emma feels nothing and imagines that she will just fall asleep and die. Then an inky taste fills her mouth, and she becomes violently ill, with a terrible pain in her stomach. Charles opens her letter and reads that she has poisoned herself. He and Homais desperately try to figure out what to do. Homais decides that they must analyze the poison and create an antidote. Emma is kind to Charles and little Berthe. Charles and Homais summon doctors from Rouen, including the famous doctor Larivière, but there is nothing to be done. The priest arrives to give her the sacrament. Charles weeps by Emma’s bedside, and Emma also weeps. The last sound she hears is that of the blind beggar singing underneath her window as she dies.
In the chapters leading up to Emma’s death, her financial situation parallels and symbolizes her moral depravity. Her interactions with men throughout the chapters demonstrate her growing moral turpitude. When she visits the lawyer, he treats her as if she were a prostitute. She then flirts with Binet, compromising her dignity even further. Finally, she tries to go back to Rodolphe, essentially willing to sell herself—in direct contrast to her outrage when Guillaumin asked her to do exactly that only a few hours earlier. Flaubert describes her unequivocally as a prostitute, adding only that she is “not in the least conscious of her prostitution.” Emma is still able to delude herself with sentimental and romantic ideas—the only difference between selling herself to Guillaumin and to Rodolphe is that Emma can tell herself that Rodolphe loves her.
Although Emma has carefully constructed a romantic fantasy world for herself throughout the novel, financial reality wrenches her, fully and finally, out of her dreams. There is no more hiding from her debt; there is no more eluding the facts of the world around her by seeking refuge in fantasy. Every attempt Emma makes in this section to circumvent or overcome her problems separates her from her dreams and demands that she face up to the ruin she has made of her life. Leon is unable to help. She has no recourse. She is desperate to hide her affairs and her financial indiscretions from Charles. Forced to face the actual consequences of her actions, she decides that she would rather die.
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