Madame Bovary By Gustave Flaubert Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapter 2

Summary

Late one night Charles was awakened with a request to come 18 miles out in the country and set a broken leg. He sent the messenger on ahead and promised to follow in a couple of hours. At four in the morning, Charles set out on the journey, trying to search his memory for everything he knew about fractures.

When he arrived at the farm house, he was admitted by a charming young lady. Upon seeing the patient, he was greatly relieved to find a simple fracture with no complications. Mademoiselle Emma came in and assisted with preparing bandages. Charles was struck by the beauty of her flashing brown eyes which appeared to be almost black. When he had finished, she led him into the dining room where he ate and talked with Mademoiselle Emma about the patient. Upon leaving, he promised to come back in three days. But instead, he found himself returning the next day and went twice a week regularly in spite of the long ride. In about eight weeks, the patient was able to walk about.

During the entire episode, Charles never questioned himself as to why he went so often to see the patient, but his wife did. She made inquiries and found out that the patient had a daughter who had been brought up in a convent and was known to give herself airs. After much complaining, nagging, and pleading, Charles' wife finally extracted a promise from him that he would not go there again.

As time passed, Charles' mother and wife both began to pick at him incessantly. Suddenly it was learned that the lawyer who had been administering Heloise's estate had absconded with nearly all her money. Furthermore, it was discovered upon investigation that her remaining property was of little value and that the woman had lied about her wealth prior to the wedding. Bovary's parents had a violent argument about this, and Heloise was very upset. About a week later she had a stroke and died.

Analysis

In this chapter, we meet Mademoiselle Emma. But Flaubert is interested in presenting her from a distant view — that is, we hear about her first from other viewpoints. He is saving his personal or direct introduction of Emma until a later chapter and is here presenting Charles' and Heloise's view of Emma. This technique is called the delayed emergence. It functions to arouse the reader's interest in the main character.

It is a part of Charles' character that he is not even aware of why he went so often to see his patient. It might even be said that he was surprised when his wife accused him of going solely to see Mademoiselle Emma. Denied of the privilege of seeing her, Charles determined that he could then justifiably love her at a distance.

Again, note that Charles' present wife is such a shrew, is so bad and so demanding and so ugly ("Her dresses hung on her bony frame."), and is so unpleasant that by contrast Emma seems like an angel to Charles. Thus Charles' miserable experiences with his first wife prepare him to be so indulgent and yielding to Emma later in his life.

The reader who is not aware of Flaubert's method of evoking a scene is missing a large measure of the greatness of this novel. The reader should select a passage, such as Charles' arrival at his patient's house, and examine the careful way in which Flaubert makes you feel this scene. His choice of language and careful description paints an accurate description of what he is writing about. The technique that Flaubert uses may be compared to that of a camera coming slowly in for a close shot and then moving subtly away for another shot.

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