“Doesn’t this conspiracy of society revolt you? Is there a single sentiment it does not condemn?”
After Leon’s departure, Emma lapses into her old depression. She is moody, irritable, nervous, and miserable. She constantly dreams of Leon, and wishes that she would have given in to her love for him. In this state, she meets a rich and handsome landowner named Rodolphe Boulanger, who brings a servant to be treated by Charles. During the treatment, Justin, Homais’s assistant who is infatuated with Emma, faints from the sight of the blood. As Emma tends to him, Rodolphe is taken by her beauty and begins plotting to seduce her.
Yonville is astir with excitement for the annual agricultural fair, a festive, merry event featuring animals on display, speeches, and prizes. One of the prizes goes to an old and timid woman, Catherine Leroux, for fifty-four years of service on the same farm. Rodolphe takes Emma inside the empty town hall to watch the ceremony from the window; when they are alone, he confesses his love for her. The representative of the local prefect arrives and gives a speech about public morality. Rodolphe continues to speak of his love and to urge Emma to return his feelings. She tries to act as she thinks is proper for a married woman but can’t resist intertwining her fingers with his.
For six weeks, Rodolphe avoids Emma, calculating that his absence will make her long for him. When he visits her at last, she is cold to him, but quickly finds herself moved by his romantic language. When Charles arrives, Rodolphe offers to loan Emma a horse to ride. She demurs, but Charles later persuades her to accept the offer. Soon afterward, Emma and Rodolphe go for a ride together. In a beautiful forest glade, he again speaks of his love for her. At last, she gives in, and they make love. When she returns home, she is joyful, feeling that her life has at last become romantic. Emma and Rodolphe quickly begin a full-fledged affair; Emma begins sneaking away from home to see Rodolphe. She acts incautiously, neglecting her duties at home in her obsession for her new lover.
Like the wedding in Part One, Chapter IV, the agricultural fair -realistically portrays country life and emphasizes Emma’s unhappiness. The farmers at the fair counter Emma’s yearning and dissatisfaction with contentment. They experience the fair not as a frivolous provincial charade, but as a genuinely enjoyable occasion. In this regard, Catherine Leroux represents Emma’s opposite. Unlike Emma, who can’t reside in the same place for more than a week without experiencing a crippling longing for romantic transformation, Catherine Leroux has served for fifty-four years on the same farm.
As a suitor, Rodolphe differs from Leon in terms of experience, and his seduction of Emma succeeds on the strength of his time-honed cunning. While both suitors are fundamentally motivated by erotic desire, Leon is shy, sentimentally romantic, and sexually innocent. In contrast, Rodolphe is aggressive, calculatingly pragmatic, and sexually cynical. Whereas Leon regards Emma as a potential partner in a love of equal terms and views her marriage as an obstacle to that bond, Rodolphe views Emma as sexual prey and her marriage as a convenient excuse for seduction without worry of commitment. Rodolphe infers immediately that Emma yearns to escape the yoke of her marriage and desires a lover. He sets about becoming that lover with ruthless precision.
The context of the fair provides sharp ironic contrast to Rodolphe’s skillful seduction of the sentimental Emma. Flaubert cuts back and forth between the scene of the seduction and the speech on morality delivered by the bureaucratic official at the fair. In every instance, the official’s pompous words emphasize the insincere passion Rodolphe displays toward Emma. When he tells her he loves her, for example, the official presents a local farmer the award for first prize in manure. As the scene continues, Flaubert heightens the pace by including shorter and shorter segments from each speech, until we hear single sentences intercut with each other.