Charles is deeply worried about Emma’s health, but he is also concerned about money. His housekeeper is stealing from him, and Lheureux is drowning him in real and invented bills. Lheureux loans Charles a great deal of money with very high interest, hoping to get rich off the doctor’s misfortune.
Flaubert was intensely misanthropic, often overwhelmed by feelings of hatred and disgust toward people in general. It is telling that almost every person in the world of his novel is, in the final count, heartless and despicable.
Emma gets better very slowly, and after meeting several times with the village priest she takes up her old taste for purity and saintliness. She dreams of an eternal love, a love she can depend on. She is deeply stirred by sentimental religious books full of “the finest Catholic melancholy.” She thinks often of Rodolphe, and she prays to God as she once spoke to her lover. She soon realizes that praying does not inspire any real feeling in her; but she romanticizes her quest for faith, and becomes obsessed with performing charitable works.
Emma escapes her insanity, and the quandary that created it, by retreating from the world. Religion fits into her sentimental-novel framework because she interprets it as an eternal love affair. But just as she cannot make herself love Charles by imitating love, she cannot make herself love God by imitating prayer. She knows something is missing from her charade—real feeling and engagement—but it is something in which she does not quite believe or even really comprehend.
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 might benefit from a night at the theatre. Lagardy, a famous singer and philanderer, is performing in Rouen. Charles is convinced, and they travel to Rouen the following day.
Once again, Emma is so obsessed by the idea of love that she does not notice the actual love there in front of her, just as she did not notice her love for Léon. Abstraction obscures both other people and oneself.