Summary and Analysis
Part I: Chapter 8
The chateau was a building of stately proportions, situated on a large and prosperous estate. The many rooms were filled with expensive and artistic furnishings and decorations. The ball was attended by all the aristocracy and gentry of the surrounding area.
Emma was overjoyed at the opportunity of being able to move freely in such noble company. During their stay at the chateau she constantly berated Bovary, whom she felt looked like a country buffoon and whose presence embarrassed her. Emma dressed and attempted to behave as if she too were a great lady and mingled with the other guests. All night she basked in the reflected glory of those around her. The ball and the people at it seemed to be transported from out of the novels and dreams she had long cherished. Emma was so ecstatic she never noticed that most of the guests ignored her. The high point of her evening came when a man known only as "Vicomte" danced with her.
On the trip home Emma suffered from bitter disappointment that she, who was so obviously entitled to preferment, could not live this way all year round. In her disillusionment she saw Bovary as a clumsy, simple oaf. Back home her frustration caused her to be cross with him, and in a fit of pique she fired the maid, despite the woman's devotion and good service. Each day Emma attempted to recall the great events of the ball, but in time they became vague memories.
This chapter presents in reality all of the grand elegance that Emma had dreamed and read about. Here then are her dreams turning into reality. Everything that she dreamed of is here: the grand dinner, the magnificent ball, the elegant dances, the discussions of faraway people and even an old man who had slept with the queen, and a young lady carrying on an intrigue with a young man. And finally, Emma's being requested to dance with a Viscount testifies to her own superiority over her upbringing.
This chapter focuses almost all of the attention on Emma. It is important here to see that Emma does possess the necessary qualities so as to blend in with an aristocratic world. Unlike Charles, who stands limply around for five hours watching a game he doesn't understand, Emma is moving graciously and rather charmingly amid this aristocratic society. Even though she does not attract people to her, she seems to blend in. Her invitation to dance with the Viscount and her ability to learn the dance attest to her acceptance. Thus, Emma's later degradation should be contrasted to the success she attains here, and by the comparison, Emma's later plight will be seen to be more pathetic.
Note the cigar box that Charles found. Emma will later dawdle over this as a reminder of her experience at the ball and convince herself that it belonged to the Viscount.
Returning to her own drab surroundings, Emma can barely tolerate the dull routine of everyone doing the same dull things. She therefore loses herself in her reveries about the ball.