[S]he would know well enough how one single glance would reawaken their lost love.

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Summary: Chapter VII

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.

Summary: Chapter VIII

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.

Analysis: Part Three, Chapters VII–VIII

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.

In the world of Madame Bovary, a woman’s only power over a man is sexual. In this section, men hold all of the financial power. Emma and her maid, Félicité, rack their brains for possible solutions, but in the end, men have the ultimate power to rescue Emma. The only strategies that Emma can employ to pull herself out of ruin depend on her posing as a seductress. Even Emma’s death depends on Justin’s susceptibility to her wiles. Ultimately, women only can watch the action of men and the world. They themselves are able to influence the world only sexually, and only in a limited way. The townswomen who watch Emma’s unsuccessful attempt to seduce Binet embody the status of females as spectators.

Throughout the novel, Emma has been the victim of a string of disappointments with the physical world’s failure to fulfill her romantic desires. Her death is her final disappointment. She believes that she will die quietly and romantically, and an “ecstasy of heroism” drives her to eat the arsenic. This “ecstasy” is soon transformed into bodily agony and a stinking mess on the floor, when she vomits, writhes in pain, and begs for the poison to work faster. The fact that the act of poisoning herself is called “eating” associates it with the physical act of consumption that has so disgusted Emma and Charles throughout the book. Emma’s lifelong desire to escape the confines of the material world is thus completely destroyed by her death.

Flaubert’s realistic description of the material world persists through Emma’s death scene, relentlessly suggesting that Emma’s romantic world bears no resemblance to reality. Flaubert litters the scene with banal commentary on the furniture and the conversations of the men around Emma. Homais, who stands for bourgeois pomposity and banality, seems entirely oblivious to Emma’s final throes of agony. His pompous stupidity is contrasted with Larivière’s intelligent simplicity and wit in just a few short phrases. When Homais says, “I wished, doctor, to make an analysis, and primo I delicately introduced a tube,” the doctor replies, “you would have done better to introduce your fingers into her throat.”

Emma’s death is firmly grounded in a very realistic description of her society. Although it seems possible in earlier sections that Emma will transcend her class, in this section, Flaubert makes it especially clear that Emma is a member of the bourgeois middle class. She is neither peasant nor wealthy merchant. Flaubert highlights her class position by introducing minor characters with class status both below and above Emma’s. The first is Mère Rollet, the nurse whom Emma goes to see in a moment of desperation. Mère Rollet reveals her status as a simple peasant in her ability to tell time by holding her fingers up to the sun. Later, left alone in Mère Rollet’s hut, Emma can’t figure out what time it is because there is no clock. We see that she is much less a peasant than her nursemaid. At the opposite extreme is Guillaumet, whose splendid house Emma examines in awe when she goes to beg him for money. By including these contrasts at such an important moment in the book, Flaubert stresses that Emma’s social class is essential to her situation and the events that befall her.