Charles Bovary, the only son of a middle-class family, became a doctor and set up his practice in a rural village. He made a marriage of convenience with a woman older than himself. Upon his wife's death, Bovary married an attractive young woman named Emma Roualt, the daughter of one of his patients. For a while Emma was excited and pleased by her marriage, but because of her superficial romantic ideals she was soon bored and disillusioned by her new life. As a result of her dissatisfaction she became ill.
For the sake of her health the Bovarys moved to a new town, where their daughter was born. Emma's unhappiness continued, and she began to have romantic yearnings toward Leon, a young law clerk. After Leon left the town in order to attend law school, Emma's boredom and frustration became more intense. She was negligent of her duties as a wife and mother. None of Bovary's efforts to please her were successful, and she did not value or understand his devoted love for her.
Finally Emma had an adulterous affair with Rodolphe, a local landowner. When he abandoned her, she became seriously ill. After her recovery Emma encountered Leon in Rouen and began to carry on an affair with him. In order to afford weekly trips to the city to see Leon and to satisfy her other whims, Emma spent her husband's money freely and incurred many debts. She kept these secret from Bovary and managed to obtain a Power of Attorney so that she would have full control over their financial affairs.
Eventually her unpaid bills went long overdue and a judgment was obtained against her by her creditors. She owed a vast sum of money, and the sheriff's officers arrived to confiscate the family property. Emma tried frantically to raise the money and finally turned to both Rodolphe and Leon, but neither was willing or able to help. Out of shame and despair, she poisoned herself. Shortly afterwards her husband, now a ruined and broken man, also died, leaving their daughter to a life of poverty.