Madame Bovary

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Emma Bovary Character Analysis

A beautiful, mediocre woman consumed by the desire to live an elegant and passionate life. Emma’s placid country childhood sharpens her appetite for passionate feeling and excitement. Her only idea of a life other than her own, a life full of pleasure and joy, comes from romance novels. These novels teach her that excitement, for a woman, is only possible through love, and that love must be carefully cultivated with elegant settings, beautiful clothes, and noble-sounding words. When she realizes that her marriage does not resemble the affairs in her novels, and Charles does not resemble the novels’ heroes, she falls into misery and boredom. She becomes fatally obsessed with achieving her only goal – to bring into her own life the joy and passion in books. Her obsession makes her cruelly mistreat her husband and daughter, pursue two unhappy affairs, rack up enormous debt, and finally kill herself by swallowing arsenic.

Emma Bovary Quotes in Madame Bovary

The Madame Bovary quotes below are all either spoken by Emma Bovary or refer to Emma Bovary. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Madame Bovary published in 2002.
Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

And Emma sought to find out exactly what was meant in real life by the words felicity, passion, and rapture, which had seemed so fine on the pages of the books.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Chapter 5, Flaubert describes Charles' blind affection for Emma and her own more ambivalent feelings. She already understands her mistake: bliss has not immediately followed her marriage because she never truly loved Charles.

Here, readers first encounter Flaubert's worries about language. Emma wants to "find out exactly what is meant in real life by [three] words," to understand how words can describe and capture her lived experience. Readers should, of course, ask themselves this same question as they read Flaubert's text: can an abstract word like "felicity" match so-called real life? Madame Bovary is a book about distortion, the gaps between reality and our transcription of it. Flaubert even ends the chapter with the noun "books," hinting that (mediocre) literature will go on to play an important role in Emma's life. This bittersweet moment already tells us of Emma's permanent dissatisfaction, which goes on to become a self-annihilating lust for physical delights and material goods. Emma is always seeking and never quite finding. 

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Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Familiar with the tranquil, she inclined, instead, toward the tumultuous. … From everything she had to extract some personal profit; and she discarded as useless anything that did not lend itself to the heart’s immediate satisfaction.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Just as Chapter 5 ends with the word "books," Chapter 6 begins with Emma's experience of the sentimental novel "Paul et Virginie." In this section about Emma's upbringing, Flaubert makes it clear that books shape Emma's childhood and adulthood: in Catholic school, she relishes all opportunities to starve and purify herself. 

Emma's romantic nature is, in some ways, merely a compulsion to commodify her own life. Familiar with the structures and patterns of love stories, she tailors herself and her experiences to these standards and "discards" all that remains. (The words "profit," "extract," and "discarded" here should remind readers that Emma is still very tethered to the corrupt material world, despite her daydreams of abstractions.) Flaubert comments on this misuse of literature, which, in his estimation, should not serve as an ethical model or example (unless as a deeper mode of thinking, rather than acting). Emma is wrong to mimic the behavior she discovers in novels: the starving and praying and moaning. Again and again Emma fails to understand that love itself, particularly the love depicted in popular fiction, cannot be an end or a goal. 

Emma was inwardly satisfied to feel she had reached at her first attempt that ideal exquisite pale existence, never attained by vulgar souls.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

The death of Emma's mother pushes Emma even further, and allows her to engage in even more extreme behavior. She eventually becomes so weak (or "exquisite") that others take notice — and this attention satisfies her. 

Flaubert is deft in his juxtapositions: though Emma cries for several days, she feels "inwardly satisfied" and pleased when someone else notices her distress. In other words, her sadness is a sort of performance, an imitation of a human sentiment. Even at a young age, Emma exists at a remove from reality, always observing herself and her life and then molding them into whatever shape she finds most pleasing. Emma treats her life like a possession, like any other frock or necklace that she has bought on credit--or like a work of art, like any of the sentimental novels she so adores. 

Readers can also note Flaubert's juxtaposition of Emma's "ideal exquisite pale existence" and the other "vulgar souls." Much of Emma's identify rests on this imagined gulf between herself and other members of the rural middle class; she cannot see her own vulgarity or superficiality, which is as evident to the reader as Monsieur Homais' greed or Rodolphe's dishonesty. 

Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

To her it seemed that certain places on earth must produce happiness.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma believes that her unhappiness stems from her environment: she would be perfectly happy as a newlywed if only she lived in a chalet or a villa, not a humdrum country house in Tostes. Of course, when she moves to Yonville in Part 2, she remains as listless and bored as ever.

Again, Emma confuses the trappings of emotion with emotion itself. Happiness, for her, is not an internal state but rather a set of external circumstances (just as love is not a feeling, but a set of gestures). In using the verb "produce" (in French, "produire"), Flaubert shows readers the extent of her misunderstanding: happiness becomes a part of the material world, the world of popular novels and expensive fashions. In sum, Emma rarely considers her own agency and expects happiness and love to come from without and not from within. 

But this, this life of hers was as cold as an attic that looks north; and boredom, quiet as the spider, was spinning its web in the shadowy places of the heart.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 7, Emma finally allows herself to regret her marriage and contemplate other, now seemingly impossible, futures with other men. These other hypothetical lives and hypothetical men all seem preferable to her current situation, her “life … as cold as an attic that looks north.”

In this section, as in many others, the division between Emma and the narrator blurs: the latter seems to inhabit her despair, giving up detached scorn for more lyrical and indulgent prose. (Note that the sentence includes two similes, the first involving an attic and the second a spider.) This is the language and diction Emma favors as she contemplates her life with Charles.

Of course, Emma’s boredom is indeed powerful, destructive enough to undermine her marriage and her social status. The spider is traditionally a sinister creature and this image foreshadows the novel’s subsequent tragic events. Emma’s boredom has almost nothing to do with her circumstances, but more to do her fantasies, her conviction that everyone else she admires is living a perfectly beautiful life, full of excitement and happiness.

Part 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

Her heart was just like that: contact with the rich had left it smeared with something that would never fade away.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 5254
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma has trouble adjusting to her old routine after the ball. She is in a foul temper for a while and, as she is putting away her slippers with reverence, notices that their soles are stained from the ballroom’s waxed floors. So too is her heart, she decides, from the night itself.

On the one hand, this is a striking image, rendered even more striking by the grammatical division between the sentence’s two halves. Emma makes this dramatic assertion with confidence (though the text remains in the third person) — the stains will “never fade away.”

And yet, on the other hand, readers shouldn’t hesitate to critique this metaphor and see humor in melodrama. Emma cannot recover from her fleeting glimpse of wealth and, in her fit of despair, compares her heart to a dirty shoe. (The verb “smear” is particularly unglamorous, a far cry from the ball’s elegance and charm.) Flaubert employs such ironic juxtapositions again and again throughout the novel, switching back and forth between sympathy and contempt for Emma.

Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

It was Paris, rippling like the ocean, gleaming in Emma’s mind under a warm golden haze. The swarming tumultuous life of the place was divided into several parts, classified into distinct tableaux. Emma grasped only two or three of these, and they hid all the rest from her, apparently representing the whole of humanity.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma’s new purchase, a map of Paris, allows her to imagine all the diverse, complicated scenes unfolding in the capital. She has never seen the city, yet it captivates her.

However, even as Emma imagines the “swarming, tumultuous” excitement of Paris, she does so in a highly stylized, detached way. She sees “tableaux:” in other words, she sees arrangements of people and things, a simplification and flattening of human experience. (“Tableaux” means "paintings" in French, and readers might consider the role of visual arts in Emma’s daydreaming.)

Slipping back into a more objective point of view, Flaubert then acknowledges the glaring flaws in Emma's fantasies, implying that she mistakes “two or three” of the tableaux for “the whole of humanity.” She lets pleasing images of ambassadors and duchesses distract her from the poorer and darker parts of Paris. This passage bears a certain resemblance to an earlier one, when local peasants shattered a window during the ball and peered at their fashionable counterparts. Flaubert takes care to emphasize the wealth disparities in nineteenth-century France, as well as showing Emma’s indifference to them.

She confused, in her desire, sensual luxury with true joy, elegance of manners with delicacy of sentiment.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is a simple diagnosis of Emma’s problem: she confuses the internal and the external, appearances and feelings. Having read countless novels in which elegant ladies swoon in lush, blooming gardens, she assumes that the dresses and gardens are the cause and beginning of happiness and love.

Emma has similar thoughts in Chapter 7, when she concludes “that certain places on earth must produce happiness.” She wants joy and romantic fulfillment, and yet searches for them in all the wrong places, among fashionable, ruthless aristocrats and, later, selfish youths.

The parallel structure in this sentence pits “sensual luxury” and “elegance of manners” against “true joy” and “delicacy of sentiment,” implying that Flaubert not only considers the two categories distinct, but almost mutually exclusive. Luxury and elegance do not lead humans towards joy, but rather often lead us astray.

Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

She wanted a son; he would be strong and dark, she would call him George; and this idea of having a male child was like an anticipated revenge for the powerlessness of her past. A man, at least, is free; he can explore each passion and every kingdom, conquer obstacles, feast upon the most exotic pleasures. But a woman is continually thwarted.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

Flaubert first introduces Emma’s pregnancy a few paragraphs earlier, and the whole matter receives very little narrative attention. Charles is delighted by Emma’s pregnancy, and both husband and wife anticipate a son. Of course, Berthe’s birth, a few paragraphs later, is then a disappointment for Emma, undermining any healthy relationship between mother and daughter.

Emma’s thoughts about her unborn child in this section align with her usual fantasies: she hopes her infant will be like the hero of a novel, someone “strong and dark.” Emma is so detached from herself and her environment that she cannot consider her child as a real person, only a two-dimensional character.

Yet Flaubert also comments on gender in this passage, differentiating it from similar earlier moments. In Part 1, Emma does not devote a great deal of thought to the injustices of marriage. She curses her fate, but only later in the text does she perceive Charles’ relative freedom and her own wretchedness.The final sentence — “a woman is continually thwarted” — is again somewhere between omniscient narration and internal monologue. And it’s bitterly ironic: Emma’s own hopes are “thwarted” by Berthe’s birth (as Berthe, Emma assumes, is destined to grow up thwarted as well) and the disappearance of the imaginary George.

Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

With her black hair, her large eyes, her straight nose, her gliding step, always silent now, did it not seem as if she passed through life almost without touching it, bearing on her brow the pale mark of a sublime destiny? She was so sad and so calm, so gentle and yet so shy, that by her side you felt under the spell of a frosty charm, just as you shiver in church at the scent of flowers mingling with the feel of cold marble. … But she was filled with lust, with rage, with hatred.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Léon Dupuis
Page Number: 99-100
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Emma realizes that Leon is in love with her — this information delights her, and pushes her to adopt new, wifely mannerisms. Her tenderness only fans the flames of his passion and in this section, the narrator slips into Leon's mind, full of hyperbole and love. 

This description — of a "sublime destiny" and "frosty charm" — aligns with Leon's romantic sensibilities, and the reader can infer that the narrator has moved away from more impartial omniscient narration. Leon and Emma share this fragile disposition, an interest in "the scent of flowers mingling with the feel of cold marble."  In other words, Leon turns Emma into a caricature of a romantic heroine ("so sad and so calm"), just as she similarly reduces most people to novelistic archetypes. 

Dialogue then interrupts Leon's daydreaming and, when the narrator returns, readers encounter a changed Madame Bovary, "filled with lust, with rage, with hatred." Flaubert jolts the reader by juxtaposing these two contradictory descriptions, mocking Leon's naiveté and Emma's deceitful nature. Leon loves a woman who does not exist, an impossible incarnation of beauty itself, a mirage.

Part 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

It was that mingling of the everyday and the exotic, which the vulgar, usually, take for the symptom of an eccentric existence, of unruly feeling, of the tyranny of art, always with a certain scorn for social conventions which they find seductive or exasperating.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Rodolphe Boulanger
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

At the agriculture show, Rodolphe mocks the provincial people of Yonville, particularly the women with their unfashionable outfits. This mockery appeals to Emma, of course, as it matches her own fascination with wealth, glamour, and romantic pride. 

In this section, the narrator steers clear of the characters' minds, remaining aloof, omniscient, and scornful. Both Emma and Rodolphe are mocked: the latter simply combines "the everyday and the exotic" in the hopes that he will seem "eccentric." And Emma, one of "the vulgar," falls for his trickery and believes herself to be superior to the rural society. In this moment, the narrator reduces both characters to their basic flaws. Readers might consider the source of this scathing commentary: is it a response to the couple's mockery of the townspeople? Does Flaubert want us to sympathize with the town's farmers and laborers? And does Rodolphe, a careless philanderer, represent the whole country's upper-class? 

Part 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

At last, she was to know the pleasures of love, that fever of happiness which she had despaired of. She was entering something marvellous where everything would be passion, ecstasy, delirium; blue immensity was all about her; the great summits of sentiment glittered in her mind’s eye, ordinary experience appeared far below in the distance, in shadow, in the gaps between these peaks.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Related Symbols: “The big blue country”
Page Number: 150-151
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma and Rodolphe consummate their illicit love in the woods; when they return, Emma looks in the mirror, finds herself changed, and begins to daydream. 

The fantasy here unfurls in a single long sentence, wrapped around a central metaphor. Love, for Emma, is "blue immensity" — she is at the peak of a mountain, surrounded by nothing but the loveliest blue, far from the petty trivialities of Yonville (or reality itself, essentially). Emma has finally reached her heart's desire: love. And the moment is indeed climactic for that very reason. The protagonist feels the very emotion she has been hounding since adolescence, the passion described in her favorite novels.

And yet Flaubert also reveals it to be pure abstraction, a feeling so detached from material reality that it ceases to have any intelligible meaning. Emma wants a love untethered to any person or place, but Flaubert dismisses this as an impossibility. The ironic accumulation of abstract words — "passion, ecstasy, delirium" — imply skepticism. The spatial distinction between love and "ordinary life," peak and nadir, indicates that Emma's perfect blue love is only a manifestation of her haughty arrogance.

Part 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

Emma was just like any other mistress; and the charm of novelty, falling down slowly like a dress, exposed only the eternal monotony of passion, always the same forms and the same language. He did not distinguish, this man of such great expertise, the differences of sentiment beneath the sameness of their expression.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Rodolphe Boulanger
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

While Emma and Rodolphe remain passionate, he becomes increasingly annoyed by her melodramatic outbursts and her endless gifts. He lumps her together with the rest of his past mistresses: they all use the same language to describe their love. 

In this passage, Flaubert hints at his own complicated relationship with language. On the one hand, he warns against Emma's tendency toward cliché and hyperbole, repeating the adjective "same" (and the noun "sameness") in order to highlight its monotony. On the other hand, Rodolphe is equally culpable, refusing to look for the "differences of sentiment" that differentiate the various mistresses. Flaubert is wary of language, since it can disguise truth and complexity, but he also seems to advocate for charity between interlocutors here. Emma is flawed, but she is fully herself, hardly indistinguishable from other women. 

Readers might also note the intriguing simile in this passage, a comparison between novelty and elegant clothing. The relationship duplicates, on a grand scale, each individual encounter, with its progression from flirtatious artifice to a sort of bleak nudity. And yet this nudity is not any more honest than the artifice, since "the same forms and the same language" appear here, too. 

And yet, in the immensity of this future that she conjured for herself, nothing specific stood out: the days, each one magnificent, were as near alike as waves are.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Rodolphe Boulanger
Related Symbols: “The big blue country”
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Rodolphe and Emma plan to flee with Berthe together; this plan makes Emma quite happy, improving her relations with her mother-in-law. At night, she dreams of her future with Rodolphe, but "nothing specific [stands] out."

Readers might consider how the "waves" here have something in common with the "blue immensity" of Chapter 9. (In both cases the word "immensity" appears, and Emma envisions herself surrounded by an all-encompassing blue substance.) Her heart's desire, pure romantic bliss, lacks some necessary specificity — it's formless and shapeless. Each wave, each day, resembles the next. The words "and yet" point to the need for specificity; love without any particular details is impossible abstraction.

Even with the verb "conjured for herself" (and a more literal translation might be "made appear for herself"), Flaubert indicates that Emma exists less in material reality, and more in a romanticized and novelized world, full of imagined futures and abstract passions. 

Part 2, Chapter 14 Quotes

Whenever she went to kneel at her Gothic prie-dieu, she called upon her Lord in the same sweet words she had once murmured to her lover, in the raptures of adultery. It was meant to arouse faith, but no delectation descended from on high.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

As she recovers from her lingering illness, Emma turns back toward religion. Charles offers her many books about theology, most of which confuse and agitate her. 

Emma first developed her interest in religion while in Catholic school, where the nuns praised her piety. However, even then, Emma was only confusing the trappings of devotion with devotion itself. She prayed, but only because she had read novels featuring pale, saintly young women. Here, too, her extreme religiosity is a charade, not a consequence of faith but an attempt to "arouse faith" and "delectation." For Emma, God is means rather than end, and she fails to understand that this does not conform to Catholic dogma. 

In fact, she conflates godly love and romantic love, hoping both are paths to the "blue immensity" in her imagination. The narrator states this with slight irony, evidenced in the words "sweet" and "raptures." 

Part 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

For now she knew the pettiness of the passions that art exaggerates.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

At the theater, Emma shrugs off Charles's questions and devotes all her attention to the play. The heroine's wedding dress pushes Emma to despair as she remembers her own happy wedding day, a time before her boredom and adultery. However, Emma then adjusts her relationship to the play, viewing it with scorn rather than empathy. 

This shift towards cynicism, of course, comes from Emma's aborted affair with Rodolphe. Having recovered from the incident, Emma allows herself to feel superior and worldly, no longer susceptible to sentimental works of art. Again, the narrator seems to inhabit Emma's mind, despite the use of the third person: Flaubert's free indirect discourse gives readers an often-cruel insight into his characters. We see that Emma feigns cynicism in order to disguise her infallibly romantic nature. In fact, this moment precedes and foreshadows Emma's second adulterous relationship, in which she again turns her life into a novel. 

Readers might also consider how Flaubert depicts art here. Is this play akin to the "decrepit metaphors" that he describes in Chapter 12? How does Flaubert's realism differentiate his own novel from these other art works? 

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

…for that was how they wanted it to have been, each of them now devising for the other an ideal rearrangement of their past. Language is indeed a machine that continually amplifies the emotions.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Léon Dupuis
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

In Part 3, Leon and Emma reunite and discuss their past, their shared love. Both tell each other lies: Emma exaggerates her illness and Leon pretends to have changed his will for her sake. The narrator drifts away from their conversation at the end of the paragraph, moving towards more a more abstract discussion of language. 

Again readers encounter Flaubert's skepticism. He does not trust language to truly convey feelings and ideas; instead, he believes that words disguise and modify reality. Leon and Emma share an inclination towards dramatic and sentimental diction and each enables the other, remaking the past into a novel. 

In the original French, the narrator compares language to a rolling mill, an obscure machine that flattens and stretches substances. The verb that follows this noun, then, is "allonger," meaning to spread or extend. While Flaubert does imply that language "amplifies" emotions, he also believes that it thins and weakens feelings. Readers might also note that the rolling mill is a machine of the industrial revolution: in some ways, Madame Bovary is a novel about the slow move away towards modernity and complete industrialization. (Charles and Monsieur Homais, for instance, are eager to test new surgical procedures on the unsuspecting Hippolyte earlier in the book.)

Was she serious in saying such things? Doubtless Emma herself had no real idea, being quite taken up with the charm of the seduction and the necessity of resisting it.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Léon Dupuis
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma doesn't immediately yield to Leon's entreaties; instead, she stresses the importance of a platonic relationship. She tells him that other women will love him, but she herself is too old. Yet the narrator, as usual, questions her intentions. 

The rhetorical question beginning this quotation distances the readers (and narrator) from the scene itself, placing us at an ironic remove. Emma falls into familiar patterns, using hyperbolic and canned expressions in order to recreate scenes from novels. Despite her delusions of cynicism and worldliness, she remains fascinated by "the charm of seduction and the necessity of resisting it." She still believes she can find love if she learns the gestures of love, the confessions and calculated refusals. 

And yet the narrator tells us that Emma "herself [has] no real idea" of her honesty or lack thereof. This slight uncertainty does seem characteristic of an older, wearier Emma. She entertains fewer illusions about the correspondence between language and sentiment. 

Part 3, Chapter 5 Quotes

He admired the exaltation of her soul and the lace on her skirts.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary, Léon Dupuis
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma and Leon delight in their affair, and their room with its mahogany bed and red curtains. Leon, in particular, is amazed that he's found someone so elegant and refined. 

Here, Flaubert uses a clever zeugma (a figure of speech in which a word applies to two other words in different senses) to mock the young man: the verb "admired" governs both "the exaltation of her soul" and "the lace of her skirts." This unites the two grammatical objects, and also lowers "the exaltation of her soul" down to the material world. To Leon, the two, however different, simply prove Emma's social value and worth as a mistress. Both are commodities, just as her own marriage to Charles is a commodity, a fact that makes Emma more desirable to Leon. 

Of course, Emma is not guiltless either; she has turned "exaltation" into a game. Leon does not necessarily wrong her by treating her disposition as a material good. Since Emma merely mimics the gestures of love and adoration, any "exaltation" is a performance, disconnected from her internal state. 

Part 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

But, if there were somewhere a strong and beautiful creature, a valiant nature full of passion and delicacy … What an impossibility! Nothing, anyway, was worth that great quest; it was all lies! Every smile concealed the yawn of boredom, every joy a malediction, every satisfaction brought its nausea, and even the most perfect kisses only leave upon the lips a fantastical craving for the supreme pleasure.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

As her second adulterous affair falls apart, Emma asks herself why she has never found happiness. She longs for some ideal man, a "strong and beautiful creature," the only one who can draw her out of her despair and boredom. 

Here Flaubert's free indirect discourse gives readers an almost claustrophobic understanding of Emma. (The various feverish exclamations lets readers know that the narrator has moved away from the omniscient third person.) At first, Emma gives her imagination free rein, just as she has again and again since adolescence. She pictures some lofty goal, and tells herself that it alone will give her pleasure. However, at this point in the novel, she's a changed woman: she suddenly swings from daydreaming to a profound, violent cynicism. ("It was all lies!") She cannot find a happy medium between sentimental idealism and pure contempt. 

In a way, Emma seems to have accepted the essential banality of the world, a place full of yawns and disappointments and broken hearts. However, in her fit of passion, she begins to use more and more dramatic language to describe the ordinary; she complains of "maledictions" and "fantastical cravings." Emma turns the mundane into the villainous, forever trapped in the language of romance novels. 

Emma was recovering in adultery the platitudes of marriage.

Related Characters: Emma Bovary
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

Emma and Leon lose interest in each other, though Emma continues to give him gifts and write letters. In addition, many of Leon's friends and coworkers warn him against an involved affair with a married woman, and he decides to lead a more respectable life. 

Emma resents Leon just as she resents Charles; she pinned her hopes on both men, and both proved themselves lacking. The platitudes of marriage, here, are disappointment and boredom and restlessness. In Emma's "blue immensity," love and happiness are endless passion; when the passion for Leon wanes, she blames him and longs to end their affair. 

Of course, the word "platitudes" describes much of Emma's language throughout the novel. She uses stale language to describe her boredom as well as her joy — she has fed on platitudes for years and so can only convey the vaguest of feelings, ones poached from novels and plays. Flaubert warns readers to treat language with caution, even as we delight in his own careful prose. 

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Emma Bovary Character Timeline in Madame Bovary

The timeline below shows where the character Emma Bovary appears in Madame Bovary. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 2
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
...an old widower named Monsieur Rouault, who lives on a large farm with his daughter Emma. Charles easily sets the simple fracture, admiring, in the meantime, the daughter’s white nails, lovely... (full context)
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
...girl to no end. Charles agrees to stop visiting Les Bertaux, but he thinks about Mademoiselle Rouault all the more. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
One day, Charles comes to Les Bertaux when only Emma is at home. He watches her sew gracefully in the afternoon light. She asks him... (full context)
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Charles resolves to ask for Emma’s hand in marriage, but never seems to find the courage. When Charles visits at Michaelmas,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
The Sublime and the Mundane Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
Emma had wanted to have a small, romantic wedding by candlelight, but her father insists on... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
When the newlyweds arrive in Tostes, Emma takes a tour of Charles’s house, which (we can infer from the tone of the... (full context)
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
Charles is infatuated with Emma and feels nothing but perfect bliss. He is in love, he is sexually gratified, and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
The Sublime and the Mundane Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
This chapter tells the story of Emma’s upbringing. Even as a young girl, she reads romantic stories like Paul et Virginie, which... (full context)
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
The Sublime and the Mundane Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
Truth, Rhetoric, and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
When Emma’s mother dies, Emma mourns her by crying and making a keepsake from her hair. Emma... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
The Sublime and the Mundane Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
Emma wonders why her honeymoon period isn’t bringing her happiness, and concludes that her home is... (full context)
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
Charles, on his end, is endlessly amazed and awed by all of Emma’s small habits and accomplishments. He delights in her amateurish piano-playing and sketching, and takes pride... (full context)
Abstraction, Fantasy, and Experience Theme Icon
The Sublime and the Mundane Theme Icon
Love and Desire Theme Icon
Causes, Appearances, and Boredom Theme Icon
Emma tries to rouse herself to passion with poetry and moonlight, but she remains indifferent to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
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The Wednesday of the ball, Emma and Charles drive at the magnificent château. Emma is deeply impressed by the spaciousness, the... (full context)
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Emma dresses beautifully for dinner, crossly warning Charles not to try to dance with her. She... (full context)
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Emma notices peasants at the windows looking in at the brilliant scene, and remembers her own... (full context)
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The following afternoon, Emma and Charles set out for home. As Emma sits languishing in their carriage, she thinks... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
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Emma often examines the cigar case, breathes its expensive smell, and imagines that it was given... (full context)
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Emma hires a new maid, an obedient young girl named Félicité whom she trains to behave... (full context)
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A year passes, and Emma becomes increasingly bored and desperate for some sort of change. She is too depressed to... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
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Emma and Charles settle in Yonville-l’Abbaye, a small town near Rouen. The town is composed of... (full context)
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...yellow carriage called a Hirondelle. The carriage is late, because it stopped to look for Madame Bovary ’s missing greyhound. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
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...to the newcomers and asks to join them for dinner. A young blond man watches Emma as she warms herself by the fire: it is another one of the inn’s regulars,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
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...spends the following day waiting expectantly for dinner. He is thrilled by his conversation with Emma – his first long conversation with a lady. He is well-educated but shy, and he... (full context)
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...he has no patients as yet, and he is worried about the family’s growing expenses. Emma’s many extravagant purchases, and now this difficult move, have finished off her entire dowry. But... (full context)
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However, Emma gives birth to a girl. After long deliberation she names her Berthe, after some aristocratic... (full context)
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Some time after the birth, Emma goes out to the nurse’s house to visit the child. She runs into Léon on... (full context)
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On their way home, Emma notices Léon’s fine hair and fingernails, which he cares for very conscientiously – it is... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
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Emma spends much of her day observing passers-by. With a shadowy feeling, twice a day she... (full context)
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Léon gives Emma some cactuses, which are fashionable at the moment, and during the evenings they watch each... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
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...Sunday, the Bovarys, the Homais family, and the clerk go to visit a half-built flax-mill. Emma takes the opportunity to mentally compare Charles’ dull, sluggish appearance to Léon’s lovely, refined one.... (full context)
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The next day, Emma has a visit from Lheureux, the draper (or wholesaler), who offers to bring her any... (full context)
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Léon visits Emma, but the awkwardness of their situation leaves them with little to say. She is quietly... (full context)
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Underneath, though, Emma is miserable and angry, and “filled with lust” for Léon. Her pleasure in her purity... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
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One spring evening, Emma sits dreaming about her girlhood days in the convent. She walks to the church and... (full context)
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When Emma comes home, Berthe tries to play with her, but Emma pushes her away so meanly... (full context)
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...and asks him to find out about ordering a daguerreotype – he wants to surprise Emma with a little romantic gesture. Léon, meanwhile, is growing weary of unrequited love and of... (full context)
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The day of his departure, he comes to say goodbye to Emma. They stand there, silent and flushed, full of feeling. He admires her one last time... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
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The next day, Emma feels confused and desolate. Her feeling of loss resembles her longing for Vaubyessard. In absentia,... (full context)
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One day, when Emma spits blood, Charles writes his mother for advice. The elder Madame Bovary thinks books and... (full context)
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One day, Emma notices a man in a green velvet coat walking through the square. She overhears his... (full context)
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Rodolphe talks to Emma a little bit afterwards. She tells him that she has never had a fainting fit,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
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...day of the agricultural show has arrived, and the town is in a pleasant tumult. Emma is walking arm in arm with Monsieur Rodolphe, who is admiring her inscrutable profile. They... (full context)
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...arrives to say that the county prefect will not be attending the show. Rodolphe takes Emma to the empty town hall, so that they can observe the festivities in private. The... (full context)
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Rodolphe continues to talk imploringly of love. As Emma looks at him, noting the color of his eyes and the smell of his hair,... (full context)
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...She is stunned by the crowd, and barely manages to receive her award. Rodolphe takes Emma home, thinking intensely about her beauty and charm. The town celebrates the end of the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 9
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Rodolphe keeps away from Emma for six weeks, to stoke her interest. Finally he comes to visit, explaining that he... (full context)
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Charles walks in, and Rodolphe suggests that horseback-riding might improve Emma’s health. Charles readily agrees, and Rodolphe offers Emma one of his horses. When Rodolphe leaves,... (full context)
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Emma and Rodolphe go riding the following day. They ride through the countryside and into the... (full context)
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They return to town in the evening. Charles compliments Emma’s complexion, and tells her he has bought her a horse. When he leaves for work,... (full context)
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Emma and Rodolphe begin to see one another on a regular basis, meeting in a hut... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
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Soon, Emma herself begins to worry about her reputation – not because she cares about the townspeople’s... (full context)
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Since Emma is already so obviously devoted to him, Rodolphe stops taking care to woo and flatter... (full context)
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One day, Emma receives a sweet and lonely letter from her father, along with his yearly gift –... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
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Soon, Emma has the opportunity to try and change her feelings. Homais wants Yonville to become more... (full context)
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...writes a grandiose article describing the operation’s certain success and praising the miracles of science. Emma, that evening, manages to feel some tenderness for her husband, now that he might become... (full context)
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...and amputates Hippolyte’s leg the following day. Charles sits at home, ashamed and horrified, and Emma watches him with a mixture of contempt and self-pity. (full context)
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They listen to Hippolyte’s horrible scream, which carries all the way across town. Charles asks Emma for some comfort and affection – a kiss – and she refuses in disgust. That... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
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From then on, Emma and Rodolphe are more closely bound than ever before. One day, she mentions that he... (full context)
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Emma spends a lot of money on maintaining her looks, and on the many pairs of... (full context)
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One day, Lheureux shows up unexpectedly with a large bill that Emma cannot pay. Lheureux gets annoyed and threatens to ask Charles for the riding-whip. In this... (full context)
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...him exactly like those of other women. He responds by becoming harsh and domineering, and Emma yields to him with anesthetized, sleepy pleasure. (full context)
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...begs him run away with her; somehow, in the charm of the moment, he agrees. Emma becomes more beautiful than ever, blooming “like flowers that have manure, rain, wind, and sun.” (full context)
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...often about his daughter’s bright future, her school-days, her adolescence, and their happy life together. Emma dreams of her escape into a vague romantic land full of pleasure. She asks Lheureux... (full context)
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...finally arrives. The night before, they meet and agree on a number of final details; Emma is wildly affectionate, and Rodolphe is hollowly obliging. As he watches her leave, he decides... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13
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At home, Rodolphe looks for some memento of Emma. He keeps a tin full of old love-letters and miniatures, and as he looks through... (full context)
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The next morning, his servant delivers the letter to Emma in a basket of apricots. When she reads the letter, she is angry and delirious,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 14
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Charles is deeply worried about Emma’s health, but he is also concerned about money. His housekeeper is stealing from him, and... (full context)
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Emma gets better very slowly, and after meeting several times with the village priest she takes... (full context)
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The Homais family visits often. Justin falls in love with Emma, little by little, but Emma doesn’t notice. One day, Homais suggests to Charles that Emma... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
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Emma is enchanted by the bustle of the theater and by its more aristocratic attendees. She... (full context)
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Charles goes to get Emma some water and runs into Léon, recently returned from Paris. When Emma sees Léon, she... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
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...he didn’t really get caught up in the hedonism of the city. He thought of Emma often, in the three years that passed, but the memory of her slowly faded. Now,... (full context)
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The day after the performance, he visits Emma at her hotel. They talk about their boredom and misery, but they don’t tell each... (full context)
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...She agrees to meet him the following morning at a nearby cathedral. After he leaves, Emma writes him a very long letter cancelling their meeting, but since she does not know... (full context)
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...cathedral early. He is full of joy, but the attendant is meddlesome and irritating, and Emma is late. When she finally comes in, she ignores Léon and begins to pray, which... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
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Later that evening, Emma returns to Yonville. the driver of the coach tells her to go to the pharmacist’s... (full context)
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...at home, and she feels a bit guilty when he kisses her hello. Over dinner, Emma thinks mainly of her own boredom. Hippolyte brings in her luggage, tapping painfully with his... (full context)
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The elder Madame Bovary arrives the next day, and they plan the funeral. Emma is annoyed by this distraction – she wants only to think of her new affair.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3
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Emma and Léon spend three days together in a hotel, only leaving the room in the... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
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...anything else. One day, he is overcome with longing and comes to Yonville to visit Emma. Charles happily receives him, but the couple don’t get any time alone. Emma is miserable... (full context)
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Emma continues to buy all sorts of clothes and furnishings from Lheureux. She also suddenly takes... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5
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Every Thursday morning, Emma takes the coach to Rouen to see Léon at a hotel. Léon is awed by... (full context)
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Emma takes the coach back Thursday night. On the way back to Yonville, the coach often... (full context)
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One day, Charles tells Emma that he ran into her piano teacher, who told him that she has no student... (full context)
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One day, Lheureux sees Emma and Léon coming out of a hotel. Three days later, Lheureux comes to subtly blackmail... (full context)
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Emma uses most of the money to pay off three earlier bills, but one final bill... (full context)
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Emma becomes extravagant in her efforts to dramatize her love with Léon, to draw as much... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 6
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...in a café. As a result, Léon is hours late for his weekly meeting with Emma. When Léon finally gets away from Homais and comes to the hotel, Emma is furious.... (full context)
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By then, Emma has left. She walks through the streets, angrily thinking of her lover’s defects. The affair... (full context)
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One day, Emma receives a legal notice requiring that she pay a debt to Monsieur Vinçart, to whom... (full context)
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...tries to teach Berthe to read, and plays with her when she misses her mother. Emma ignores her child and spends all her time and money on Léon. The clerk, meanwhile,... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 7
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...Charles is out, the bailiff and two other men take inventory of the Bovary house. Emma travels to Rouen the following morning to try to take a loan from one of... (full context)
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Homais rides the coach back to Yonville with Emma. They see the beggar with the infected eyelids, and Homais prescribes him expensive foods and... (full context)
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The next morning, Emma notices a sign announcing that her things are to be auctioned off. Her maid advises... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 8
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Emma rushes over to La Huchette, and finds Rodolphe sitting by the fire. He is moderately... (full context)
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Emma thinks wildly about her past, tottering under the strain of anxiety. She can think only... (full context)
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When Charles had come home, devastated by news of his financial ruin, Emma had been out. He is relieved when she comes home, though she offers no explanations.... (full context)
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...her daughter, who is scared by her changed appearance. One doctor comes, then the other; Emma takes an emetic and begins suffering even more. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9
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...promised him. Homais tells the man he is busy. He also spreads the rumor that Emma died by accidentally using arsenic instead of sugar in a pudding. (full context)
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At first Charles does not want to bury Emma, but finally Homais and the priest persuade him. Charles decides that Emma should be buried... (full context)
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The next day, the elder Madame Bovary and the innkeeper prepare Emma’s body for the funeral. They think she looks beautiful in her wedding dress. When they... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10
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Emma’s stricken father comes to Yonville for the funeral. Hippolyte is there, wearing his “best new... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 11
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...people come after Charles for money, but he refuses to sell anything that belonged to Emma. Lheureux pesters him with bills, the piano-teacher who never gave any lessons demands six months... (full context)
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Some time later Charles finds Rodolphe’s last letter to Emma, but he forces himself to interpret it as a letter of friendship. He soon has... (full context)
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One day, Charles looks inside a secret compartment in Emma’s desk. He finds a large stack of love letters from Léon and Rodolphe. He stops... (full context)
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...Charles dead in the garden. Berthe is sent, penniless, to her grandmother. Soon the elder Madame Bovary dies, too, and Berthe goes to live with a poor aunt and starts work in... (full context)