Madame Bovary By Gustave Flaubert Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapter 9

Summary

Emma buried herself in her fantasies and dreamed of living in Paris, among the nobility. She visualized life in the capital as a constant round of balls, parties, amours, and other exciting things. She read novels and travel books voraciously and studied maps of the city. Much of her time was spent planning imaginary trips, adventures, secret meetings, and visits to the theater or opera. The reality of life at Tostes became unbearable to her, and she was even more critical of Bovary.

At first Emma attempted to add little touches of elegance to her humdrum life, such as fancy lampshades and silver, but this soon became an unsatisfactory solution to her craving, even though it pleased Charles. Emma's despair became more intense when she finally was forced to realize that there would be no further invitations to the chateau, and in her depression she gave up her music, sketching, and other pursuits. She was often sad and lonely, and during the long winter her plight became worse. She seemed to cultivate her unhappiness and self-pity by concentrating on her unattainable aspirations, and by finding so little with which to occupy herself. Most of her time was now spent staring down from her window at the village street. She was sullen and rarely spoke to Charles.

As her condition became even worse, Emma's moods began to fluctuate between extreme forms of behavior. Sometimes she was very active, sometimes lethargic and slovenly, sometimes nervous and stingy, sometimes capricious and temperamental, but always she was unpredictable and difficult to get along with. Soon she became physically ill. None of Charles' worried efforts to cure her were successful, and he took her to Rouen, to see the medical professor under whom he had studied.

This learned doctor recommended a change of scene for the sake of Emma's health, since it was evidently a nervous disorder and she complained so much of disliking Tostes. Despite the fact that he had built a flourishing practice in the village, Charles was willing to sacrifice all for Emma's welfare. After making some inquiries, he decided to move to the town of Yonville, which was located in a nice area and where a doctor was needed.

While Emma was helping with the packing, she pricked her hand on her old bridal bouquet, which was now dried up, frayed and yellow with dust. She threw it into the fire and watched it burn. By the time they moved to the new town, Emma was pregnant.

Analysis

Perhaps no chapter in the novel presents Flaubert's essential theme and meaning as well as does this concluding chapter of Part One. Flaubert vividly depicts the exhausting and enervating results of a woman who expends all her energy in dreams and futile longings. The chapter opens with Emma's recalling the events of the ball, reliving certain episodes and then progressing to envisioning new incidents which might have happened. She wastes, then, her energies in imagining that the cigar case belonged to the Viscount, that he is now in Paris and is pursuing a life of intrigue and excitement. She fritters away her time and energy by tracing walks through Paris on a map she bought, she imagines shopping in Paris, she subscribes to Paris magazines and she dreams of the Viscount. But Flaubert is able to make us all see that Emma's frustrated longing for a different type of life is a quality that we all possess. Thus he universalizes Emma's longings so as to make an indirect comment concerning this type of wasted and futile activity.

Emma constantly contrasts her real environment and surroundings with those she conjectures in her dreams. The real seems completely intolerable: "The nearer home things came, the more she shrank from all thought of them." In her dreams, new and exciting things happen every day, but in her real life in Tostes, the same things happen over and over again, so that "the whole of her immediate environment — dull countryside, imbecile petty bourgeois, life in its ordinariness — seemed a freak, a particular piece of bad luck that had seized on her." Therefore, she tries to introduce some elegance into her life; she hires a fourteen-year-old girl and tries to teach her how to become a "lady's maid."

Emma's frustration and longings cause her to give up her piano, her needlework, drawing, care for the house and all other useful activity. Instead, she fritters away her time in daydreaming. Rather than making herself useful in some way, she drains herself of all her energy by these longings for another life. In waiting for something to happen, she becomes a pathetic (almost tragic) case of a woman who exhausts herself in these futile longings until she is physically sick. In other words, she indulges in her own misery until her self-indulgences cause her sickness. She has had a fleeting glimpse at emotions that transcend the dull routine life at Tostes, and her intense longings for these more sublime emotions cause her sickness. The pathos of Emma's life is that she does possess enough sensitivity to be aware of feelings and emotions greater than those of Charles, but is unable to find a suitable outlet for these emotions.

Emma's plight is symbolically depicted in the discovery and burning of her bridal bouquet. What was once to be the symbol of a new and exciting life filled with new emotions now is seen as a faded, frayed, dusty object on which she pricks her finger. Thus, the burning of the bridal bouquet signifies the end of her marriage and prepares us for her promiscuity later on. It is not just the end of a marriage, but also the end of her life at Tostes, because now that they are moving, Emma can perhaps be reawakened to a different life.

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