One Thursday, Homais decides to visit Léon in Rouen. He is determined to have a wild time, and insists on drinking with Léon in a café. As a result, Léon is hours late for his weekly meeting with Emma. When Léon finally gets away from Homais and comes to the hotel, Emma is furious. He begs her forgiveness, but then a servant calls him downstairs: it is Homais again. Léon swears that he needs to work, but somehow allows Homais to drag him to another café.
Léon is growing tired of Emma’s extravagances and complaints, as Rodolphe grew tired of them. They are the sharp points of a formless unhappiness. But Léon is as stupefied by Emma sexually as she was by Rodolphe, and he can’t find the will to reject her. The presence of Homais offers Léon with an opportunity to laze into a kind of passive resistance to Emma.
By then, Emma has left. She walks through the streets, angrily thinking of her lover’s defects. The affair has become somewhat disappointing, despite Emma’s increasingly fervent and ornamental love letters. Léon is repulsed and a little frightened by her desperation, and stifled by her controlling temperament, but he can’t let her go. Emma becomes unhappy and dissatisfied, and wishes for a lover wonderful enough to make her happy forever.
Emma is disenchanted because her love for Léon is founded only in her happiness. But she may also be disenchanted because she is beginning to know Léon as a person, not just as an idealized lover. She is finding out his flaws, small and large. She is angry at him for becoming real. Her books have taught her that real people are unfit for love.
One day, Emma receives a legal notice requiring that she pay a debt to Monsieur Vinçart, to whom the draper sold her debt. Emma goes to see Lheureux, who claims that Vinçart is quite vicious and will not hesitate to have Emma thrown in jail. She borrows more money from him, on uncertain but unfavorable terms, and tries to make some money by collecting debts from Charles’s patients and by selling some of her things. She tries to do financial calculations, but they frighten and bore her, and she borrows more and more.
Emma is practical, to some extent, but she has had no education in numbers or finance. She is not equipped to do battle with Lheureux (as he well knew, when he convinced her to take power of attorney). Emma hurts people carelessly, but compared to Lheureux she is an innocent. He hurts people deliberately, and with pleasure in his profit from it and possibly with just plain pleasure.
Charles tries to teach Berthe to read, and plays with her when she misses her mother. Emma ignores her child and spends all her time and money on Léon. The clerk, meanwhile, begins to think of breaking off the affair and devoting himself more seriously to his career. She is bored by his practicality, and he is bored by her histrionics. For distraction, she stays out all night at a masked ball with some of Léon’s friends, dancing outrageously in men’s clothes. In the morning, she is appalled and ashamed. When she comes home, she finds a writ ordering her to pay an extremely large sum within twenty-four hours; if she fails to pay, her property will be seized.
Several places in the novel have distinct feminist overtones. Here, the narrator implies that Emma’s misery is caused in part by her highly restricted life. She places such a burden of expectation on love because it is her only outlet for joy and satisfaction. Unlike Léon, she cannot turn to a career; unlike a servant-girl, she can’t in good conscience enjoy a drunken night of dancing. This aspect of the novel is taken up in Kate Chopin’s Awakening.