Summary: Chapter I

Although Leon has all but forgotten Emma during his time at law school, seeing her again has reawakened his old feelings for her, and he goes to see her in her hotel while Charles is gone the next day. They have an intimate conversation about their discontent with life and the romantic nature of death. Finally, Leon confesses his love and kisses Emma. She refuses him, but he begs for another chance, and they agree to meet at the cathedral the next day. Emma then writes him a letter in which she explains that she cannot be his mistress. The next day, Leon goes to the cathedral at the appointed time, but Emma hangs back, hoping to avoid him and not to fall in love with him again. When she arrives, she gives the letter to Leon, but he does not read it. She takes up the offer of the church’s beadle for a tour of the building, but finally Leon pulls her away. They call for a carriage. The driver of the carriage is baffled that they would want to be driven about aimlessly, with all the curtains pulled tight, on such a pleasant day. They drive all day and into the evening, and the only sign of life from inside the carriage is a hand that emerges to throw the torn-up scraps of Emma’s letter into the wind.

Summary: Chapter II

Emma and Leon have spent so much time in their carriage that Emma has missed the coach back to Yonville. She takes a private cab to catch up with it. When she returns home, she is called urgently to Homais’s pharmacy, where Homais is having a massive fight with Justin because Justin has taken the key to a storeroom where arsenic is kept. Homais tells Emma that Charles’s father has died. Charles is in mourning, and his mother arrives for a long stay at their house in Yonville, much to Emma’s dismay. Lheureux appears with another list of debts and encourages Emma to obtain power of attorney over Charles’s finances in order to settle the debts. Charles naively believes his wife when she says that this would be the best approach, so he agrees. He even agrees to send her to Rouen for three days so that Leon can draw up the papers.

Summary: Chapter III

In Rouen, Emma and Leon enjoy a passionate three-day “honeymoon,” making love in their hotel room, taking a boat out to an island, and romancing under the moonlight. One evening, the boatman tells them that a party of well-to-do young people had used the boat the day before; it turns out that Rodolphe was among them. Emma shudders, but quickly recovers herself, making arrangements for Leon to write to her when she returns to Yonville.

Analysis: Part Three, Chapters I–III

Emma’s new love affair proves the weakness of her recent religious contrition. She abandons the church as soon as a new suitor asserts himself. Emma’s attraction to the appearance of romance leads her to accept a superficial version of love, from Leon as well as from Rodolphe. Leon has changed a great deal while in Paris. His flighty romantic sentiments have become dulled by the sophistication of the city, and Flaubert allows us to view affairs from Leon’s perspective from time to time to show us the deficiency of Leon’s emotions in relation to Emma’s desires. Like Rodolphe, Leon is concerned more with the appearance of his love than with love itself. He often “congratulates himself” on what he believes to be a particularly well-turned romantic phrase or gesture. Rodolphe appears on the scene as a masterfully suave seducer. Leon, on the other hand, despite his high opinion of himself, behaves like an impatient schoolboy. When Emma accepts the beadle’s offer of a tour of the church, Leon can’t wait to have Emma alone and doesn’t even try to conceal his impatience. Emma, however, is blind to Leon’s foolishness. She has so little sense of sincerity in a lover that she accepts Leon’s playacting as sophistication.

The carriage ride with Leon is one of the most famous scenes in Madame Bovary because it illustrates synechdoche, a literary figure in which part of something stands for its entirety. The description of the carriage’s movements stands in for a description of Emma and Leon making love, and the panting exhaustion of the carriage driver stands in for the panting exhaustion of the lovers within the carriage. The further the carriage goes, the further we know Emma and Leon have gone, so even Flaubert’s long list of the districts they visit contributes to our growing sense of certainty that Emma and Leon are consummating their affair inside the carriage. Finally, the hand thrust forth at the very end of the scene to discard the torn pieces of Emma’s letter signals both Emma’s sexual climax and the end of all her resolutions.

The emptiness of Emma’s devotion to religion is literally demonstrated as Emma passes straight from the church into her lover’s arms. The scene in the cathedral, like Emma’s consultation with the priest in Part Two, Chapter VI, allows Flaubert to criticize religion. Here, as in that earlier scene, Emma is desperately in need of spiritual guidance—but the man of religion is too concerned with worldly things to lend her the help she needs. In this scene, she accepts the beadle’s tour because “with her expiring virtue, she clung to the Virgin, the sculpture, the tombs—to anything.” But the beadle’s labored descriptions of the statuary do not offer the spiritual succor Emma needs.

The lyricism of Flaubert’s prose in this section illustrates the belief of both Emma and Leon that their love affair is fantastically romantic, while ironically communicating the narrator’s awareness that the affair is cheap and tawdry. On the one hand, Flaubert uses lyrical, poetic language to capture the mood of his characters, writing of Emma, “at times the shadows of the willows hid her completely; then she reappeared suddenly, like a vision in the moonlight.” On the other hand, he maintains a detached irony, writing, “they did not fail to make fine phrases about how melancholical and poetic [the moon] appeared to them.” The narrator’s use of poetic language to describe Emma is not sarcastic; instead, it conveys both the beauty and the absurdity of the situation. Flaubert is never entirely condescending towards his characters, nor does he ever entirely embrace their naiveté.