Madame Bovary By Gustave Flaubert Summary and Analysis Part III: Chapter 1

Summary

While attending law school in Paris, Leon was a model student. But he did experience a new way of life even though he remained quiet and respectable. And now that he has returned to Rouen, he has brought with him many of the manners and sophistication that he learned in Paris. He dressed and acted in the Parisian style and felt especially self-confident in Rouen, where he considered himself to be a sophisticate among the local provincials.

At first in Paris he had often thought about Emma, but gradually she became a blurred memory. Now his old feelings for her were reawakened. He visited Emma at her hotel the next day while Bovary was out.

She and Leon were pleased by this opportunity to see each other in private, and they held an animated conversation for several hours. Their old intimacy was renewed, although both withheld several personal details of their recent experiences. Emma and Leon recalled their sad parting in Yonville and the times they had spent together there and discussed with a new frankness their mutual affection. Before leaving, Leon kissed Emma, and they arranged to have a secret meeting at the cathedral the next day.

In the morning, Leon arrived punctually at the place of the rendezvous. Emma was late and tried at first to avoid him, for she hoped to prevent herself from falling in love with him again. She tried to pray but her mind was not on it. Then she readily accepted an invitation from the beadle of the church to see the various parts of the cathedral. Leon suffered the sightseeing as long as possible and then pulled Emma away from the church and into a carriage he had sent for.

The carriage driver could not understand why two people would want to ride aimlessly about the countryside on such a pretty day with all the curtains pulled. Every time he made an attempt to stop, he was severely reprimanded by Leon. They were together in the carriage so long that Emma missed the Hirondelle that was to take her back to Yonville. She had to hire a special hack to catch the Hirondelle before it reached Yonville.

Analysis

Chapter 1 presents Leon's background so as to show how he has changed during the interim. He is no longer so retiring and bashful. Paris has given him a sense of self-assurance which will allow him now to approach Madame Bovary. But we should also note that even though both he and Emma have changed, their talk is still filled with commonplace romantic cliches and platitudes.

Flaubert's description of the church where Leon is to meet Emma is a masterpiece of realistic description and subtle suggestion. Flaubert describes the church (particularly the chancery) in terms of a lady's boudoir where the church (or Emma) is waiting to "gather the confession of her love." These descriptions sum up everything about Emma's own religion — a religion which Emma sees only in her own way. Thus, after Emma enters, she immediately attempts to pray, but her thoughts are not on religion but instead on herself and her relationship with Leon. Throughout the entire scene, it is ironic that both Emma and Leon are seething with a burning passion while the slow, bungling guide shows them through the cold, ancient church. Their view of the huge, magnificent church should be contrasted with the final scene, that of Emma and Leon riding in a small closed carriage while consummating their love. The carriage is even described as being "sealed tighter than a tomb," and if the image is extended, this is the beginning of Emma's last fated episode which will lead to her suicide.

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