Emma and Charles settle in Yonville-l’Abbaye, a small town near Rouen. The town is composed of dying pasture, a reddish river, a church, a large market, Homais’ pharmacy, an inn called the Golden Lion, and a cemetery. The cemetery is very large, due to a recent cholera epidemic, and the grave-digger (who is also the sexton and the beadle) uses the extra space to plant potatoes.
In even a short space, Flaubert makes the town seem like a great many things at once: it is charming, stifling, cozy, narrow. Finally, it is a little grotesque, with its cemetery potatoes. The beautiful and the ugly, the idealistic and the cynical must coexist there.
Next, we see the innkeeper – a widow named Madame Lefrançois – busily preparing for the arrival of the Bovarys. Monsieur Homais sits contentedly next to her as she bustles about the kitchen, making dinner for both the newcomers and the regular patrons. One of these is Monsieur Binet, a crotchety, awkward tax collector whose greatest passion is working a lathe. He comes to the inn every day at six o’clock.
The idea of regularity is significant in the life of this small town. The inn’s patrons eat dinner with the repetitive faithfulness of Binet’s lathe. This regularity is all Emma can see. But behind it, in the finer details, lay all sorts of odd deviations and idiosyncrasies that she never notices.
Monsieur Homais chatters to the innkeeper about practical matters and makes a grandiose speech about the hypocrisy and irrationality of organized religion. Just then, the Bovarys arrive in the evening coach, a large yellow carriage called a Hirondelle. The carriage is late, because it stopped to look for Madame Bovary’s missing greyhound.
Homais habitually expounds about rationality and progress, the scientific and humanistic ideals of the 19th century. But he uses a borrowed, elevated, self-congratulatory language, and his primary goal seems to be self-aggrandizement and personal success.