One winter 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. Later that night, she thinks long and hard about the contrast. She can’t stop thinking about Léon and his many charms. She becomes fully aware for the first time of his love for her, and the realization fills her with both bliss and bitter regret. She had not attended the Sunday soirée at the Homais house, and she is pleased to learn from Charles that Léon left early.
Everyone sometimes zeroes in the looks of friends or acquaintances. But Emma is not simply suddenly paying attention to Charles’s and Léon’s looks: for her, their appearances are the sum total of who they are, or at least the largest, most central, and domineeringly symbolic aspect of who they are. For her, the thought “Charles is plain” is identical to the thought “He is nothing, and I do not love him.”
The next day, Emma has a visit from Lheureux, the draper (or wholesaler), who offers to bring her any goods she might need. He offers her various pretty things, and explains that she would not have to pay right then. He even offers her a loan. She coldly declines, but he chatters pleasantly about Charles’s patients and quietly leaves, promising to return.
Emma has already spent more than she and Charles could afford. Lheureux comes to tempt her with precisely the sorts of thing she cannot resist: objects that she believes make love possible, at an elegantly ambiguous price. Lheureux is offering her the illusion of an aristocratic life for his own personal profit.
Léon visits Emma, but the awkwardness of their situation leaves them with little to say. She is quietly enjoying his admiration, while he wonders whether she is displeased with him. She tells Léon that she no longer has time for music, since she must take care of her husband, child, and home. From that moment on, Emma really does put all her energies into homemaking. She takes Berthe from the wet nurse, and displays the child to all her visitors like a mother in a book. She becomes an attentive and conscientious wife. Her performance makes Léon lose all hope of a romantic relationship with her, but it makes him love her all the more, in a worshipful way. Emma becomes even paler and thinner, like an angel of mercy. Her sad, gentle exterior makes her widely admired in town.
Emma is torn between two desires. She wants to feel strongly and freely, but she also wants to cultivate a particular, elegant, admirable exterior. The books she loves have taught her that true passion is contingent on a certain self-presentation, in a certain setting. Emma has been in the grip of boredom: she can’t seem to achieve strong feeling. So, logically, she directs her attention instead to the cultivation of the certain appearance and setting that should (in her mind) cause strong feeling. Her convent upbringing slants her behavior toward the saintly.
Underneath, though, Emma is miserable and angry, and “filled with lust” for Léon. Her pleasure in her purity is tempered by “the cravings of the flesh, the yearning for money, and the melancholia of passion.” She becomes irritable with her household and angry with Charles for thinking her happy. She is tired of pretending, and wishes she could elope with the clerk, but the thought fills her with dread.
But it is feeling that creates appearance, not the reverse. Emma feels no motherly or romantic love, and playacting mother and wife does not make her feel anything. She is bored and empty. Her one genuine emotion is her attraction to Léon. Her interior and her exterior have split.