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When Emma returns to Yonville, Leon begins inventing pretexts
to visit her there. He neglects both his work and his friends in
Rouen. Emma continues to sink deeper into debt to Lheureux and convinces Charles
to let her take a weekly piano lesson in Rouen, secretly planning
to see Leon on a regular basis.
Every Thursday, Emma travels to Rouen, where she sneaks
through back alleys in poor neighborhoods to see her lover. She
feels emotionally alive during her time with Leon and is anxious
and withdrawn at home, even though she continues to act the part
of the dutiful wife. Her relationship with Leon grows more intense
with each encounter, and the two begin to view one another as characters in
a romantic novel. She develops a familiar routine of going to visit him
and returning in the carriage to Yonville. On the road between Rouen
and Yonville, she periodically encounters a deformed, blind beggar
who terrifies her with his lurid, horrible song. At home, Charles
nearly discovers the affair when he meets Emma’s alleged piano teacher
and finds that the teacher does not know Emma’s name. But Emma shows
him forged receipts from the lessons, and Charles is easily convinced
that nothing untoward has occurred.
As a means of paying her mounting debts, Lheureux convinces Emma,
who has power of attorney over Charles’s property, to sell him some
of Charles’s father’s estate at a loss. He also talks her into borrowing
more and more money. When Charles’s mother arrives to look over
the accounts, Emma has Lheureux forge a bill for a smaller amount
of money than she has actually borrowed. Nonetheless, the elder
Madame Bovary burns Emma’s power of attorney. Charles, however,
soon agrees to sign a new one.
Emma is obsessed with her time with Leon, and with experiencing
every kind of romantic pleasure. When she stays overnight with Leon
in Rouen without telling Charles, she makes her husband feel foolish
for worrying about her. From that moment on, she goes to see Leon
whenever she feels like it, and he starts to become annoyed by her
demands on his time.
One day when Emma is scheduled to be in Rouen, Homais
pays Leon a visit and monopolizes his time. Emma is left waiting
in the hotel room and becomes hysterically angry, accusing Leon
of preferring Homais’s company to hers. She returns home in a rage,
beginning to convince herself that Leon is not the man she thought
he was. Emma starts to act domineeringly toward Leon, who reacts with
A debt collector surprises Emma with a visit, and the
sheriff serves a legal notice against her. She borrows more money
from Lheureux and begins a desperate campaign to raise money to
pay her debts, even pawning many objects from Charles’s house in
Yonville. All the while, she continues to spend decadently during
her time with Leon, forcing him to entertain her opulently and providing
him the money to do so. He becomes sick of her petulant extravagance,
and she becomes disgusted with his reticence. Each of them is bored
with their affair. She begins cavorting with unsavory company, even
accompanying some vulgar clerks to a disreputable restaurant after
a masquerade ball.
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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Madame Bovary!