Summary: Chapter IV

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.

Summary: Chapter V

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 She feels emotionally alive during her time with Leon and is anxious and withdrawn at home, even though she continues to act the part of the dutiful wife.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.

Summary: Chapter VI

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 resentment.

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 own.

Analysis: Part Three, Chapters IV–VI

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.