Since Emma’s romance novels describe appearance rather than experience, love, for Emma, is identical to the appearance of love, to certain expressions of love. Her third-rate novels have no fully developed characters, only cardboard stereotypes, so she comes to understand love not as a feeling of admiration and affection for a distinct person, but as a series of pleasure-giving interactions. Love, for her, is desire, sex, and flowery letters: she does not recognize that these are only the surface aspects of an emotion. She mistakes the smoke for the fire. In this sense, she and Rodolphe are alike. Love affairs, for him, amount only to a series of pretty faces and sentimental words, with no distinct people or feelings behind them.
Love understood as pleasure is self-directed and self-contained. It is fundamentally an interaction with oneself, in which another person serves as a prop. A love like Charles’s, on the other hand, is directed outward at the beloved, anchored in the other person’s qualities, cares, and general well-being. It brings joy, but only incidentally – an unselfish joy in the beloved’s existence. Emma and Charles embody two extremes of love, which in life are always mingled.
For Emma and Léon, experiencing the right kind of love is also bound up with self-image. Since love in books dwells only in aristocratic homes, they feel that the right kind of love connects them to the right kind of life, the refined, elevated life they’ve always dreamed of. Rodolphe’s love affairs are also bound up with self-image, because they allow him to feel strong, canny, and superior. Unlike Rodolphe, Emma wants love that is true and everlasting, but a frail foundation of sensual pleasure weakened by the intrusions of reality keeps her affairs disappointing and short.
Love and Desire ThemeTracker
Love and Desire Quotes in Madame Bovary
The universe, for him, did not extend beyond the silken round of her skirts.
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.
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.
To her it seemed that certain places on earth must produce happiness.
Charles’s conversation was as flat as any pavement, everyone’s ideas trudging along it in their weekday clothes, rousing no emotion, no laughter, no reverie.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For now she knew the pettiness of the passions that art exaggerates.
…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.
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.
He admired the exaltation of her soul and the lace on her skirts.
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.
Emma was recovering in adultery the platitudes of marriage.