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“Perhaps they loved one another platonically,” he told himself.
Charles is devastated by Emma’s death. He plans an extravagant funeral, with three coffins, and arranges for his wife to be buried in her wedding dress. Homais and Bournisien, the priest, come to watch over the body with Charles; they have an argument about the value of prayer and Charles rages against God. As Emma is being dressed for the funeral, a black liquid pours out of her mouth; later, Charles lifts her veil to look at her face, but utters a cry of horror. He asks Homais to cut away a lock of her hair, and Homais does so, leaving a bald patch in the midst of her hair.
Rouault, having received news that his daughter was ill, arrives in Yonville and discovers that Emma is dead. He attends the funeral along with Charles and the whole town, including Lheureux and Hippolyte, who wears his best false leg for the occasion. Justin does not attend, but visits Emma’s grave in the middle of the night to mourn privately.
One after another of Emma’s creditors contacts Charles, demanding payment of a staggering sum of money. Charles attempts to raise it, but learns that Emma has already collected all the money his patients owe him. He is forced to borrow more and more, and to sell articles from around the house. He continues to idealize his wife’s memory. When Leon is engaged to a well-bred young woman, Charles sends him a letter of congratulations, remarking that his wife would have been happy for him. Even when he encounters the letter from Rodolphe that Emma had left in the attic, he assumes that it refers to a platonic affection.
Charles lives alone with his wife’s memory. Even Homais becomes less intimate with him, in part because he is too busy waging a campaign to expel the blind beggar from the area. Homais is becoming an increasingly well-respected man who always keeps abreast of the latest developments in politics and medicine.
One day, Charles opens Emma’s desk and discovers her letters from Leon and Rodolphe. He is forced to confront the fact that Emma was unfaithful to him. He sinks into gloom and begins to keep even more to himself. He has been forced to sell nearly everything he owns in order to keep Emma’s creditors at bay, and his spirit is broken. One day, he goes to Rouen to sell his horse to raise more money, and he meets Rodolphe. They have a drink together. Rodolphe expresses feelings of guilt for his part in Charles’s ruin. Charles tells him that he knows the truth, but does not hold a grudge against Rodolphe. He blames fate for Emma’s behavior.
The next day, Charles dies in his garden. Everything he owned goes to the creditors, and Berthe is sent to live with his mother. When Charles’s mother dies, Berthe is dispatched to an impoverished aunt, and she is forced to work in a cotton mill. Homais, meanwhile, continues to thrive and is eventually awarded the Legion of Honor medal.
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