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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.
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.
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.
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
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
Ace your assignments with our guide to Madame Bovary!