Every Thursday morning, Emma takes the coach to Rouen to see Léon at a hotel. Léon is awed by Emma’s charm and refinement, and proud to be the lover of a real lady: “he admired the exaltation of her soul and the lace on her skirts.” She reminds him of every beautiful woman described in books. He feels that his soul is captured in her beauty. When they are together, they disguise their sexual longings with “displays of wonder.”
Flaubert is master of the sarcastic zeugma, a sentence structure that attaches two incongruous nouns (soul, skirts) to a single verb. In this case, the zeugma serves to show that exaltation of the soul can be as superficial and as easily acquired as a skirt. Léon does not admire anything like Emma’s actual soul – only a soul she affects.
Emma takes the coach back Thursday night. On the way back to Yonville, the coach often passes a deranged beggar with horribly infected eyelids, who sings a pretty song about a young girl in love in springtime. Sometimes he pushes his upturned hat through the window, and the driver chases him away with a whip. Emma feels moved and disturbed by his odd singing.
Flaubert sets Emma’s moony daydreaming in scathing contest to the man’s appalling suffering, just a foot away. Through this juxtaposition, he is asking a question that will become especially urgent in the 20th century: can it be right to live lyrically in a world full of terror and suffering?
One day, Charles tells Emma that he ran into her piano teacher, who told him that she has no student named Emma Bovary. He suggests that perhaps there is another piano teacher who has the same name. The next day, he finds a forged receipt for the piano lessons in his boots. From then on, Emma finds a new pleasure in lying.
Emma has struggled between Christian / middle class morality, which she received through her family and her religious education, and the free-thinking, sensual mores of her romance novels. She has exhausted herself trying to live by the former without internal impetus, and she feels relief in finally abandoning it.
One day, Lheureux sees Emma and Léon coming out of a hotel. Three days later, Lheureux comes to subtly blackmail her for the money she owes. She is broke, so he suggests that she sell an old cottage that once belonged to Charles’ father. She agrees, and he immediately finds her a buyer, though it is implied that the sum offered is significantly below the actual value of the property. Emma is delighted to have any money at all. She decides to pay off her debt to Lheureux, but he convinces her to keep her money and simply take out some more loans.
Flaubert often exposes Emma’s cruelty, emptiness, and selfishness. Again and again, he shows her inflicting pain. She is so indifferent to other people that she hardly registers their suffering, let alone her part in it. But this indifference, which makes her what we might call sociopathic, is also the foundation of her unhappiness. In this scene and throughout, she is both villain and victim.
Emma uses most of the money to pay off three earlier bills, but one final bill comes to their house. Lheureux convinces Charles to sign two other bills for it, with steep interest. Charles asks his mother for some money, so the elder Madame Bovary inquires into Emma’s expenses, and is horrified by the indulgence and waste. Charles agrees to let his mother burn Emma’s power of attorney, but Emma convinces Charles to sign another.
Here, Charles and Emma are both Lheureux’s victims. In Flaubert’s cynical view, people with any kind of sentimental framework – even one as poisonous as Emma’s – generally fall victim to totally amoral, unimaginative, shrewd people like Lheureux. In this view of life as battle, love and fantasy are just vulnerabilities.
Emma becomes extravagant in her efforts to dramatize her love with Léon, to draw as much pleasure from it as possible. One Thursday, she does not return to Yonville. Charles is desperate with worry, and after a sleepless night he comes to Rouen to look for her. After looking for her in every reasonable place she could be, he runs into her on the street. She tells him coldly that she spent the night at her piano teacher’s, and complains that his anxiety is stifling. From then on, she comes to see Léon at every whim. She even surprises him at his office, to his boss’s annoyance. She begins to criticize his appearance and his house and demands love poems. He is in thrall to her, and yields to all her requests.
With Léon, Emma has travelled through all the stages of her affair with Rodolphe: bliss, rapaciousness, and finally vague dissatisfaction. The beginning of dissatisfaction coincides with a certain kind of artificial intensity – a means of postponing and masking impending boredom. Emma is not happy anymore, and she believes that her love affair is supposed to make her happy, so logically she explains her unhappiness as a defect of the affair. And since she knows she herself has not changed, the defect must be Léon’s.