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“Perhaps they loved one another platonically,”
he told himself.
See Important Quotations Explained
“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.
The section following Emma’s death is largely designed
to convey the impact of the consequences Emma evaded in death but
brought down on the people she left behind. Charles remains faithful
to her memory even when he is consigned to a life of comparative
poverty. When he discovers Rodolphe’s letter in the attic, he assumes
it refers to a platonic friendship. Only Emma’s drawer full of letters
from her lovers serves as evidence powerful and obvious enough to
penetrate his innocent obtuseness. When Charles dies shortly after
this revelation, the devastation of the Bovarys is complete. Berthe
is forced to live with a lower-class aunt and to work as a common
laborer. Emma’s aristocratic pretensions have imprisoned her child
in a life of poverty and dependence.
Perhaps the most powerful representation of the effect
Emma had on the lives of those around her can be observed in Justin, Homais’s
innocent assistant, whom she forced to play an unwitting part in
her death. Our sense of Justin’s innocence is heightened by the
description of him as a “child” when he weeps on Emma’s grave. Leon
and Rodolphe sleep in their respective beds, not shedding a tear
while Justin sobs “under the weight of an immense sorrow.” By comparing
Emma’s lovers and their shallow, jaded insincerity with the honest
involuntary passion of an innocent, Flaubert shows how hollow and
bereft of sincere emotion Emma’s love affairs have been.
In terms of narrative structure, the final chapter of Madame Bovary is
symmetrical with the first. Emma is absent from both the first and
the last chapters of the book, which focus instead on Charles. Her
absence reminds us that life continues without her, reducing her
life to just one among many. And, just as the book began not with
Charles but with an anonymous third party, it ends with Homais,
who has played only an occasional part in all of Emma’s dramas.
The last sentence of the book describes the honors accorded Homais,
that torchbearer of bourgeois mediocrity, reminding us again that Madame
Bovary is a tragedy of class.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Madame Bovary!