Emma recalls her thirteenth year, when her father took her to the convent to live. She enjoyed the convent at first; she liked talking with the nuns and she enjoyed answering the difficult questions correctly. But she soon relinquished herself to the languid atmosphere of the convent and found herself admiring the beauty of the chapel rather than listening to the lessons. She gave herself over to romantic notions concerning the church and dreamed of the "sick lamb" and the metaphors of a "betrothed spouse, heavenly lover, marriage everlasting," and she listened only to the romantic melancholy of the lamentations.
There was an old maid who came to the convent and who would sing romantic ballads to the girls on the sly. Emma then read voraciously from tales of romance involving lonely meetings, secret encounters, gloomy forests, and troubles of the heart. She became enthusiastic over Sir Walter Scott and dreamed of living in some romantic palace where a cavalier with a white plume could come galloping up and rescue her.
When her mother died, Emma had a lock of her dead mother's hair mounted and wrote her father that when she died she would like to be buried in the same grave. She gave her time to reading romantic, sentimental poetry and while enjoying the mysteries of the church, she rebelled against the discipline.
When her father took her from the convent, she enjoyed managing the servants for a while, but soon tired of it and longed for the convent. When Charles appeared, she found it difficult to believe that the quietness and dullness of her romance was what she had read about in the novels.
The earliest chapters have been concerned with Emma only from an indirect view. Now Flaubert is ready to present his view or analysis of Emma. As pointed out earlier, this technique — a delayed emergence of the main character — serves to heighten the reader's interest in hearing about the main character.
This chapter presents Emma as an incurable romantic, a person who lives in a dream world, in a world of fiction rather than in the real world. She is a dreamer and a sentimentalist. When young, she had read Paul and Virginia, a highly sentimental and romanticized view of life and love. This novel of idyllic love contributed to Emma's dreamy sentimentalism. The chapter then proceeds to show how a person already endowed with a strong degree of sentimentality was placed in a type of life in the convent which nourished her already excessive tendency toward this type of sentimentalism. In religion she searched for the unusual, the mystic, the dreamy. In the convent, she read stories of romance while being unable to see the real world. She concentrated her attention upon the beautiful and artistic rather than finding the basic elements of a natural life. Novels read on the sly only increased the value of the romance by being forbidden. Thus, left alone with her dreams, she developed into a dreamy girl who wanted all the elements of romantic fiction to come alive in her own life. She longs for old castles, for romantic lovers charging up to a balcony on a white horse, for moonlight meetings in far-away places. She feels the need of excitement and mystery, and cannot tolerate the normal life of everyday living. Thus, when Charles comes calling, she cannot understand why her life wasn't suddenly filled with passion, bliss and ecstasy.
Another of Emma's characteristics is suggested in this chapter: Emma's constant need for a change. She at first enjoyed being out of the convent and at home managing the servants, but then grew rapidly tired of this and longed again for the convent. Thus throughout the novel, Emma will begin one project and drop it only to begin another, always in the constant search for something new and exciting.