Madame Bovary By Gustave Flaubert Summary and Analysis Part III: Chapters 5-6

Summary

On the days of her lessons, Emma occupied all her time with Leon. Each week they had a passionate reunion, as if they had been separated for an age instead of for a few days. These visits were joyous events for both of them and were marked by profound emotional and romantic feelings. As their affair progressed, they viewed each other as if they were the idealized figures of sentimental fiction and attempted to enact all that once they had only imagined.

Emma's departure was always a sorrowful moment, and the happiness she gained from seeing Leon disappeared as soon as the coach left Rouen. At home Emma was irritable and tense. She lived only for her next meeting with Leon and spent the week reading romantic books and reliving her memories, in order to keep her ardor at a high pitch.

Once she was nearly caught in her lie when Bovary ran into her supposed piano teacher and the woman did not recognize Emma's name. However, she was able to show Charles falsified receipts for the lessons and soon convinced him that nothing was wrong. Another time Lheureux saw her and Leon together in Rouen. She was afraid that he would tell Bovary, but instead the crafty merchant used her fright to force her into signing additional notes and selling some of Bovary's father's estate at a loss. Meanwhile, Emma was regularly being presented with other unpaid and overdue bills. She was confused by all this and unable to settle matters, so she attempted to ignore her creditors. She borrowed more and more from Lheureux, for as she became more worried and frightened, she also became more extravagant. She seemed to have no concept of the obligations incurred from borrowing money and hoped to forget her troubles through the possession of all sorts of wasteful luxuries. As a result, she went heavily into debt.

Despite her torrid affair with Leon, Emma was rapidly becoming unhappy again. Nothing meant anything to her any more except her Thursday in Rouen. She indulged in complicated sentimental excesses and wild flights of fantasy. In the desperate hope of finding happiness, she became voluptuous and greedy and tried to experience every kind of sensual pleasure. Nothing satisfied her, and her frustration increased. Her behavior perplexed Leon, particularly when she tried to force him to dress or act in certain ways or to quit his job in order to ensure his permanent devotion to her.

In the earliest stages of this affair, Emma had found contentment, and her mellow mood was reflected at home, where she had been a considerate and dutiful wife. Now she was impossible to get along with again. Once she stayed overnight in Rouen with Leon and did not bother to inform Charles of her whereabouts. He was very worried and set out to find her. Later on, she managed to convince the poor man that he was at fault for worrying and inquiring about her, and that there was nothing wrong with her strange behavior.

During Leon's visits to Yonville he had dined at the house of Homais, his old landlord. In return for this hospitality he felt obligated to invite Homais to Rouen. Homais eventually accepted the invitation and decided by coincidence, to come on the same day that Emma usually went to the city.

Once in Rouen, Homais sought out Leon and insisted that the young man accompany him to a restaurant and other places. Leon was not too assertive, and Homais easily quieted all his objections. Meanwhile, Emma waited impatiently in the hotel room. Leon managed to slip away from Homais for a little while to see her, but there was a nasty scene. She refused to listen to his excuses and accused him of such ridiculous things as preferring Homais to her. She returned to Yonville in a state of anger and began mentally to seek out all Leon's weaknesses.

After a while Emma realized that Leon was not really to blame for his conduct, but her awareness of his faults remained. She began to see that he was not the ideal figure she had imagined, and this thought troubled her. Their relationship was already shaky, and now it began to depend almost entirely on sensuality and various outside diversions that had once been secondary to their emotional feelings. In a frantic effort to regain the security of happiness, Emma sought to dominate all aspects of Leon's life. He resented her demands, and their moments of contentment were briefer than ever.

One day a debt collector called on Emma to get payment on one of her notes to Lheureux. Emma did not fully understand the meaning of his visit and made some feeble promises. The next afternoon she was served with a legal notice from the sheriff of the district. Emma was terrified and went to Lheureux. He was curt with her. After a while he relented, and though he claimed he could not afford the risk, he finally lent her more money on stiff terms and again tricked her into buying some expensive merchandise.

Emma was aroused by this experience and began an economy campaign. She cut down on household expenses, urged Bovary to get money from his mother, purchased little items in Rouen for resale to the ladies of Yonville, and secretly collected the money that was owned Bovary by his patients. She told her husband nothing about the real state of their finances. Despite all her efforts, Emma was unable to stop borrowing and continued to run up debts.

With this new burden added to her other troubles, Emma became temperamental and slovenly. The Bovary house was a melancholy place because she sold so many things to raise money; the mending and washing were undone, and the needs of the child were usually ignored. Emma had few friends any more and spent most of her time locked in her room. Bovary was worried and tried to comfort her, but she refused to speak to him and was unresponsive to all his clumsy advances.

Emma continued seeing Leon in Rouen and insisted on spending those days extravagantly. Leon often could not afford to entertain her in the style which she demanded, so she provided him with money, even when it meant pawning some of her possessions. Leon's family and friends had been urging him to end the affair, since they were concerned about its adverse effect upon his career and reputation. Now that Emma was becoming so moody and difficult, he started to agree with them and began to view her as a burden. Their relationship went on, but both of them often felt a secret disgust for each other, and even their lovemaking was now usually a source of boredom. In addition, Emma degraded herself by frequenting disreputable places and keeping low company, although she was ashamed afterwards. Her tastes and fancies became decadent and corrupt.

At last Emma was served with a court order, enjoining her to pay the sum of 8,000 francs or suffer confiscation of her household property. She ran to Lheureux and made wild promises, but he callously refused to help her any longer and sent her away.

Analysis

These two chapters present Emma's entry into another love affair and her forthcoming destruction. These two chapters evoke many comparisons and contrasts. In the beginning of the affair, she again saw herself as the "woman in love of all the novels, the heroine of all the dramas, the shadowy 'she' of all the poetry-books." This was the same as in the beginning of her romance with Rodolphe. But along with this similarity, we see Emma going to meet her lover by "going through alleyways and emerging" in disreputable parts of towns. Strong hints of ugliness pervade these meetings.

But as the affair progresses, we suddenly realize that the role Emma played with Rodolphe is suddenly reversed. Now Leon is in the place of Emma and Emma is playing the role that Rodolphe earlier acted. Now Emma is the experienced partner introducing the young and inexperienced Leon into lovemaking and as Rodolphe used to come to her, now she goes to Leon. At the end of the day, it is Emma who must dress and make the journey home. Finally, even Leon realizes that he has "become her mistress rather than she his."

During the first part of their relationship, Emma thought that she had found what she had been searching for during her whole life. But as the relationship progressed, she gradually began to realize that she couldn't look at Leon realistically. "Idols must not be touched; the gilt comes off on our hands." And she also realizes that she had made him seem to be more than he is. Then she wonders what causes "this inadequacy in her life." At home she would try to read romantic fiction hoping that the idealized heroes would reawaken a love for Leon. But she had to finally admit that she was tired of him. She "had rediscovered in adultery all the banality of marriage." This discovery then seems to leave Emma more empty than ever.

During her affair with Leon, she has continued to neglect her business and is steadily becoming more entangled in financial affairs. Flaubert seems to be correlating Emma's deteriorating moral sense with her financial deterioration. She becomes the pathological liar both about her affair with Leon and about the financial debts. And as the love affair begins to fail, her debts begin to confront her as though they were analogous to her entangled love life.

Even in the early parts of Emma's affair with Leon, an ominous note appears. It is in the form of the old beggar, whom Emma often meets immediately after leaving Leon. The ugliness and vulgar appearance, the degradation of this old blind beggar contrast well with the artificial bliss with which Emma has enfolded herself, and also serve to foreshadow the depths of degradation to which Emma is falling. He can even be said to be symbolic of the ugly death that Emma is soon to face. Emma then sinks to her lowest shortly after this when she goes to a masquerade party and ends up with low-class clerks in an inferior eating house.

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