The 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 walk though a meadow, busy with people, goods, and animals, and Rodolphe flirts with Emma by disparaging other conventional women and by describing his melancholy. His tone is carefully calculated to inspire admiration. He goes on to imply that he is in need of a beloved to whom he could devote all his time and energy. Emma is torn between pleasure and skepticism.
Even though Rodolphe, in his world-weary way, feels that he deciphered Emma the instant he saw her, his attraction is to the inscrutable in her. Love does not sit easily with absolute comprehension. Whatever real love Rodolphe may feel, he suppresses by being distant and calculating. He easily imitates Emma’s preferred language of sentimental abstraction in order to feign emotional closeness.
A councillor 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 councillor makes a fatuous speech about patriotism and national prosperity. Meanwhile, Rodolphe talks to Emma about the turmoil of the soul and implies that happiness can only be found in true love. As the speaker talks of duty, Rodolphe declares that one’s only duty is to beauty and happiness. Emma struggles against Rodolphe’s words, but the crowd gathered around the councillor is completely mesmerized.
The councillor’s words are interwoven with Rodolphe’s for sarcastic emphasis: both speeches are empty, frothy rhetoric. Both men are using the power of words not to communicate something they believe to be true, but to manipulate the listener or listeners. Their speeches are rhetoric because they use abstractions to appeal to grand emotions, but without reference to fact, or to the complexity and confusion of actual life.
Rodolphe continues to talk imploringly of love. As Emma looks at him, noting the color of his eyes and the smell of his hair, she remembers the Viscount and the clerk, and feels everything blurring together. Her sensory impressions of Rodolphe “[go] down deep into her past desires.” The second speaker exalts labor and agriculture; Rodolphe praises fate for bring them together, and takes Emma’s hand. As he talks to her directly of his love, the speaker is announcing prizes for farming, manure, and swine.
This scene juxtaposes the vulgar and the sublime: swine, and love. It’s a technique quite directly modeled on Don Quixote, but used to different effect. Cervantes employs this technique to show that the vulgar and the sublime, the low and the high, happily coexist in every part of life. For Cervantes, that coexistence is quite beautiful. Flaubert finds it disgusting and deflating.
An old farmer named Catherine Leroux receives a medal for fifty-four years of labor. She is deeply worn and calloused, with the “wordless placid state of being” of the animals in her care. 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 fair with a messy banquet. The chapter ends by citing Homais’s sugary, overblown description of the event, printed in a local newspaper.
Catherine Leroux, who is “wordless,” acts as a counterpart to the rhetoricians in this scene: the councillor, Rodolphe, and Homais. She also doesn’t possess any physical beauty (which people like Emma use to manipulate others, as a sort visual rhetoric). She is not trying to create any sort of impression, and so seems both transparent and irreducible—she is who she is, for all to see.