[A]ll the bitterness of life seemed to be served to her on her plate. . . .
During her honeymoon in Tostes, Emma feels disappointed not to be in a romantic chalet in Switzerland. She finds her husband dull and uninspiring and begins to resent his lack of interest in a more passionate life. Charles continues to love Emma. His mother visits and hates Emma for having won his love. After she leaves, Emma tries to love Charles, but disappointment lingers. She wonders why she ever got married. Then, one of Charles’s patients, the Marquis d’Andervilliers, invites the Bovarys to a ball at his mansion.
Although enchanted by the atmosphere of wealth and luxury at the ball, Emma is embarrassed by her husband, whom she views as a clumsy, unsophisticated oaf. She is surrounded by wealthy, elegant noblemen and women, among them an old man who was one of Marie Antoinette’s lovers. When the ballroom gets too hot, a servant breaks the windows to let in the air. Emma looks outside and sees peasants gawking in; she is reminded of her life on the farm, which now feels a world away. A viscount dances with her, and she feels as though she has been cheated out of the life for which she was born. On the way home, the same viscount passes them on the road and drops a cigar box, which Emma keeps. Back in Tostes, Emma is angry with everyone around her.
Fixated on her cigar case and her fashionable ladies’ magazines, Emma sinks into fantasies of high society life in Paris, growing despondent and miserable and venting her self-pity by acting sullen and capricious with her husband. Although Charles’s business prospers, Emma grows increasingly irritated with his poor manners and dullness. As her restlessness, boredom, and depression intensify, she becomes physically ill. In an effort to cure her, Charles decides that they should move to Yonville, a town in need of a doctor. Before the move, Emma learns that she is pregnant. While packing, she throws her dried bridal bouquet into the fire and watches it burn.
Now that we see the world of the novel fully from Emma’s perspective, Flaubert begins to develop the basic conflict inherent in her situation: Emma is unable to accept the world as it is, but she cannot make the world as she wants it to be. Now that she is married to a middle-class dullard, she cannot accept her lot. She steeps herself in fantasy, and the pressure of her constant rebellion against reality makes her restless, moody, and eventually physically ill.
Flaubert’s portrayal of the ball and the events that follow displays the ironic contrast between Emma’s experience and reality. Flaubert conveys both the external reality of how Emma looks at the ball as well the psychological reality of how the ball looks to Emma. She is so happy that she fails to realize that no one at the ball is paying any attention to her, and her meaningless dance with the viscount becomes, in her fancy, a tremendous romantic occurrence. In fact, she continues to overlook the well-meaning love of her good-natured but vapid husband in favor of her memories of the ball for weeks after everyone else has already forgotten it. When Charles decides to move to Yonville in an attempt to salvage Emma’s failing health, she takes a moment from her packing to throw her bridal wreath dramatically onto the fire. The event symbolizes her rejection of the marriage and the complacent middle-class world that have, to her mind, imprisoned her.
Emma’s prejudiced eyes intensify Flaubert’s realist attention to detail. In particular, the details of Charles’s oafishness are greatly magnified. The narrator describes every noise he makes when he eats. Flaubert also devotes several paragraphs to a description of Emma’s overwhelmingly boring daily routine. Emma’s boredom becomes one of the novel’s subjects and a means of developing her character. Flaubert’s focus on boredom marks another of the novel’s departures from romanticism toward a realistic mode.