The story starts as we see Charles Bovary entering a new school in the town of Rouen in France. People laugh at him because he isn’t sure what to do and how to act. He is the son of a doting mother and a very strict father. Charles isn’t sure what to do with his life and therefore does as his mother advices him; to go to medical school. He fails at first because he didn’t work for it in class, but the second time he does and he passes the exam and becomes a doctor in the town of Tostes. He is well liked in town because people see him as a hard working man. Because he is still single and his mother thinks he shouldn’t be, she arranges a marriage only for the money with an ungly widow, Heloise Dubuc.
One day Charles is called to a farm because someone has broken his leg. On the farm he meets Emma Rouault, the daughter of the farm owner. He likes her very much and keeps coming back to her father to check up on his leg, even after his leg has fully healed. They get on very well and they dicide to get married, even with protest of his former wife which dies soon after because of a stroke. They arrange a huge wedding and loads of people are invited to it. They party on for days and days and there’s food enough for a whole army. Because his practice isn’t where the farmer lives, they return to Tostes.
And this is where are the misery starts for Emma. When Charles is out in the country for house visits, Emma just sits at home doing nothing. All she does is read, watch the rain and she used to play the piano, but quit because she feels that nobody listened to her anyway. She hoped to get the love from her husband in the same way that the main characters in the novels she read get love, but that doesn’t happen. She is bored to death. She is starting to get irritated by Charles’ way of living and the way he behaves sometimes.
One day they go to a party of the maquis and there she meets the life that she wants to live. She doesn’t want Charles to dance because she feels that it would embarras her and instead dances the night away with a Viscount and meets all the rich. When they return back home, she becomes even more miserable because she misses all those things now. Charles notices this and talks with another doctor and together they conclude that a change of scenery might be good for her and they decide to move to Yonville. At the time that they move, Emma discovers that she is pregnant.
In Yonville, life isn’t that much different from the life she’d lived before, but now she meets someone who is interested in the same things as she is; Leon Dupuis, a clerk. Emma is now close to giving birth to a baby and she is hoping that it’s going to be a boy so that he can be strong and free, but her hopes are lost when it turns out that it is a boy; Berthe. As time passes, Emma continues her life and finds out that she is in love with Leon, but they don’t start any relationship. Eventually, Leon moves to Paris to study there and Emma is again left in misery.
Rodolphe meets Emma and she really is attracted to her, but in a sexual way; he thinks that Emma is beautiful. He manages to talk Emma into seducing her and it works. Emma starts to get more and more interested in Rodolphe and they start spending more and more time togeter, for example, they go to the agricultural show together. Emma starts meeting him in secret and he even comes to their house where they make love. Rodolphe decides that to keep the love going, he should leave for a few weeks and that’s what he does. And it seems to work, because after six weeks, Emma can’t wait to see him again.
One day when Emma decides to go back to Rodolphe, she passes passed by Bines, who knew that she had nothing to look for over that side of town because Rodolphe’s house was the last one there he knew that she wasn’t supposed to be there, so she just made a story and she hoped that he would fall for it. Now everytime that Charles and she were somewhere and Binet was around, she would started acting rather strange and Charles definately noticed it. But Charles thought that it was just again related to her so called illness.
Because Charles wants to keep up with the latest ‘technologies’ in these days and because Emma encourages him to, he buys himself a book about how to cure club-foots and finds it really interesting. He has this friend called Hippolyte and he has a club-foot, so he decides to give it a try on him. But it fails miserabely and he fears for his good reputation. Another doctor later has to be called in to amputate Hippolyte’s leg.
Madame Bovary is in real money problems now, and because she can’t take it all any more and because she really loves Rodolphe very much, she wants to run away with him. Rodoplhe isn’t too sure about this and tries to first make her think decently about it and when she says that she’s curtain, he decides to stretch the date that they are planning to leave as much as possible. He runs away from her and decides not to show up as planned, so he writes her a letter explaining why she shouldn’t run away and why he also isn’t going.
So, Rodolphe writes her the letter, which he has great difficulty with. He asks Girard to send it to her together with some fruit, and when she reads the letter, she’s so shocked and saddened that she becomes incredibly ill and almost dies of this. The only thing she can do now is rest.
Slowly she starts feeling better, but she’s still too weak to do anything. Again, as before, they still have the same bills to pay. This is because Emma always had to have the latest of the latest and she never paid on the spot, but she always put it on the bill and that bill was never paid. And now the medicaments also have to be paid for…
Charles thinks that a trip to the theatre would do Emma good, because she’s now strong enough to walk on her own feet. Emma really loves the play and she constantly keeps on imagining that she is the main character and that she just could fly away. When Charles goes out to talk to someone and comes back, he says that Leon is also in the theatre. After the play, they all go out for a drink and they talk about how everything’s going and of course, Emma’s health. Leon mentiones that there’s another performance on in two days. Emma would love to go, but Charles says that he has his work waiting at home and that it’s not possible for him to stay there. Leon makes an offer that Emma can stay over here for two days and stay with him in Rouen. Charles thinks about it and finally agrees to it.
Leon is finally back again with Emma and they talk about their sorrow and sadnesses and share it with eachother. They decide to meet up the next day again at the church. The next day, Leon is there first and he decides to check out the church. When he enters the building, the priest comes up to him and asks him if he wants to have a tour of the building. Charles says no. Later on, Emma shows up and again the priest comes up to her with the same question. Leon says no again, but Emma says that she would love to. He gets really annoyed with the damn tour and calls a cab and takes Emma with him.
Many hours later, they stop in Beauvoisine district and Emma steps out and enters the inn. Once in the inn, she get the word that she has to go to Monsieur Homais as soon as possible. So she goes there and they tell her that Charles’ father has suddenly died. What has to be done now, is that all of the will has to sorted out. They need a good lawyer, but not an expensive one and so they decide to call upon Leon. He offers to go, but she says that it would be better that he keeps on eye on the business and that she’d rather go on her own. So she leaves for Rouen for three days.
She of course has the time of her life in Rouen with Leon and they live their lives in Hotel de Boulonge.
Emma still thinks that she doesn’t see Leon often enough and so decidedes to take up the piano and will now (or at least she says) take private lessons in Rouen.
She visits Leon more often, and when they part again for the week, she’s already longing for the next Thursday that they will meet again.
One day a man comes to their house and he gives her a letter from Monsieur Vincart of Rouen with a bill of 700 francs. She said that she would pay it next week. The next day she gets another letter from Maitre Haring saying that she has to come to Monsieur Lheureux to pay all of the bills that she never paid for. He wants the money now, but of course she doesn’t have it. She was given a piece of paper that said that she had to pay the money (8000 francs) within 24 hours otherwise all of her belongings would be sold until the sum reached.
Of course, she wasn’t able to pay all of this an the next day, when Charles went out, gentlemen came in and took notes of all the things in her house. She didn’t want this to happen, so she went out to Maitre Guillaum. He was quite friendly and was willing to pay the money as long as he could have her as a prostitute. She didn’t want this and quickly ran out. Now the only one that was left was Rodolphe. She came into his nice house with loads of expensive stuff and when she asked for the money, he said that he didn’t have it. She was so incredibly angry, that she just took something, threw it away, ran out of the house all the way to the pharmacist’s shop, stuck her hand in a pot of blue stuff and swallowed it. Charles had no clue where the hell she was hanging out and went looking for her. He couldn’t find her and when he came back home, there she was laying on her own. She wanted to be left alone to let the poison work in slowly. And it did. She started feeling really sick, throwing up like a maniac and getting weaker and weaker. Charles called all of the best doctors and even he himself could do nothing. After a few hours, he passed away.
They finally prepare for the funeral. She got burried and Charles’ sadness was unmeaserable. People started ignoring him at all costs, he had no friends left. One day, Berthe wanted to play with him, she gave him a friendly push and he fell to the ground; he was dead.
Madame Bovary begins when Charles Bovary is a young boy, unable to fit in at his new school and ridiculed by his new classmates. As a child, and later when he grows into a young man, Charles is mediocre and dull. He fails his first medical exam and only barely manages to become a second- rate country doctor. His mother marries him off to a widow who dies soon afterward, leaving Charles much less money than he expected.
Charles soon falls in love with Emma, the daughter of a patient, and the two decide to marry. After an elaborate wedding, they set up house in Tostes, where Charles has his practice. But marriage doesn’t live up to Emma’s romantic expectations. Ever since she lived in a convent as a young girl, she has dreamed of love and marriage as a solution to all her problems. After she attends an extravagant ball at the home of a wealthy nobleman, she begins to dream constantly of a more sophisticated life. She grows bored and depressed when she compares her fantasies to the humdrum reality of village life, and eventually her listlessness makes her ill. When Emma becomes pregnant, Charles decides to move to a different town in hopes of reviving her health.
In the new town of Yonville, the Bovarys meet Homais, the town pharmacist, a pompous windbag who loves to hear himself speak. Emma also meets Leon, a law clerk, who, like her, is bored with rural life and loves to escape through books. When Emma gives birth to her daughter Berthe, motherhood disappoints her, and she continues to be despondent. Romantic feelings blossom between Emma and Leon. However, when Emma realizes that Leon loves her, she feels guilty and throws herself into the role of a dutiful wife. Leon grows tired of waiting and, believing that he can never possess Emma, departs to study law in Paris. His departure makes Emma miserable.
Soon, at an agricultural fair, a wealthy neighbor named Rodolphe, who is attracted by Emma’s beauty, declares his love to her. He seduces her, and they begin having a passionate affair. Emma is often indiscreet, and the townspeople all gossip about her. Charles, however, suspects nothing. His adoration for his wife and his stupidity combine to blind him to her indiscretions. His professional life, meanwhile, takes a severe blow when he and Homais attempt an experimental technique to treat a club-footed man named Hippolyte and end up having to call in another doctor to amputate the leg. Disgusted with her husband’s incompetence, Emma throws herself even more passionately into her affair with Rodolphe. She borrows money to buy him gifts and suggests that they run off together and take little Berthe with them. However, Rodolphe has grown bored of Emma’s demanding affections. Not wanting to elope with her, he leaves her. Heartbroken, Emma grows desperately ill and nearly dies.
By the time Emma recovers, Charles is in financial trouble from having to borrow money to pay off Emma’s debts and to pay for her treatment. Still, he decides to take Emma to the opera in the nearby city of Rouen. There, they run into Leon. This meeting rekindles the old romance between Emma and Leon, and this time the two embark on a love affair. As Emma continues sneaking off to Rouen to meet Leon, she also grows deeper and deeper in debt with the moneylender Lheureux, who lends her more and more money at exaggerated interest rates. She grows increasingly careless in conducting her affair with Leon. As a result, on several occasions, her acquaintances nearly discover her infidelity.
Over time, Emma grows bored with Leon. Not knowing how to abandon him, she instead becomes more and more demanding. Meanwhile, her debts mount daily. Eventually, Lheureux orders the seizure of Emma’s property to compensate for the debt she has accumulated. Terrified of Charles finding out, she frantically tries to raise the money that she needs, appealing to Leon and to all the town’s businessmen. Eventually, she even attempts to prostitute herself by offering to get back together with Rodolphe if he will give her the money he needs. He refuses, and, driven to despair, she commits suicide by eating arsenic. She dies in horrible agony.
For a while, Charles idealizes the memory of his wife. Eventually, though, he finds her letters from Rodolphe and Leon, and he is forced to confront the truth. He dies alone in his garden, and Berthe is sent off to work in a cotton mill.
Analysis of Major Characters
In Emma Bovary, Flaubert uses irony to criticize romanticism and to investigate the relation of beauty to corruption and of fate to free will. Emma embarks directly down a path to moral and financial ruin over the course of the novel. She is very beautiful, as we can tell by the way several men fall in love with her, but she is morally corrupt and unable to accept and appreciate the realities of her life. Since her girlhood in a convent, she has read romantic novels that feed her discontent with her ordinary life.
She dreams of the purest, most impossible forms of love and wealth, ignoring whatever beauty is present in the world around her. Flaubert once said, “Madame Bovary is me,” and many scholars believe that he was referring to a weakness he shared with his character for romance, sentimental flights of fancy, and melancholy. Flaubert, however, approaches romanticism with self-conscious irony, pointing out its flaws even as he is tempted by it. Emma, on the other hand, never recognizes that her desires are unreasonable. She rails emotionally against the society that, from her perspective, makes them impossible for her to achieve.
Emma’s failure is not completely her own. Her character demonstrates the many ways in which circumstance rather than free will determined the position of women in the nineteenth century. If Emma were as rich as her lover, Rodolphe, for instance, she would be free to indulge the lifestyle she imagines. Flaubert suggests at times that her dissatisfaction with the bourgeois society she lives in is justified. For example, the author includes details that seem to ridicule Homais’s pompous speechmaking or Charles’s boorish table manners.
These details indicate that Emma’s plight is emblematic of the difficulties of any sensitive person trapped among the French bourgeoisie. But Emma’s inability to accept her situation and her attempt to escape it through adultery and deception constitute moral errors. These mistakes bring about her ruin and, in the process, cause harm to innocent people around her. For example, though dim-witted and unable to recognize his wife’s true character, Charles loves Emma, and she deceives him. Similarly, little Berthe is but an innocent child in need of her mother’s care and love, but Emma is cold to her, and Berthe ends up working in a cotton mill because of Emma’s selfish spending and suicide, and because of Charles’s resulting death.
We can see that Emma’s role as a woman may have an even greater effect on the course of her life than her social status does. Emma frequently is portrayed as the object of a man’s gaze: her husband’s, Rodolphe’s, Leon’s, Justin’s-even Flaubert’s, since the whole novel is essentially a description of how he sees Emma. Moreover, Emma’s only power over the men in her life is sexual. Near the end of her life, when she searches desperately for money, she has to ask men for it, and the only thing she can use to persuade them to give it to her is sex. Emma’s prostitution is the result of her self-destructive spending, but the fact that, as a woman, she has no other means of finding money is a result of the misogynistic society in which she lives.
In the novel, Madame Bovary, Charles represents both the society and the personal characteristics that Emma passionately despised. He was somewhat incompetent, lacked intellegence and imagination, specifically when it came to romance and intimacy. In one of the novel’s most revealing moments, Charles looked into Emma’s eyes, as she hoped he invisioned her inner soul, he murmers something about seeing his reflection in her retina. Charles’s perception of his own reflection is not conceit but merely an immediate response that excludes any romantic connotation.
That moment established his inability to combine love and romance. Instead, he viewed life literally and never instilled what he saw with romantic inference. Instead, its the physical aspects of Emma that delighted Charles. Narrative focus on his point of view allowed us to visualize most every detail of her dress, skin, and hair. But when its came to her aspirations and depressions, Charles was unable to comprehend. It appeared that he was physically repulsive or actually hideous looking thru Emma’s eyes.
Charles is the most moral and sincere characters. He truly loves Emma as he forgives her even when he finally recognizes her infidelities. He does everything he can to save her when she is ill, and he gives her the benefit of the doubt whenever her lies seem to fail her. Literal-minded, humble, free of temptations, and without aspirations. As the story goes, opposites attract. Emma and Charles cannot be more opposed. While Charles was sincere, moral, humble and loyal man, Emma was a lying, cheating woman that holds very little guilt for what she has done.
Although, there were episodes where, out of guilt, she exhibited love and caring for Berthe, her daughter and Charles, it was short lived and she quickly reverted to her life of deception. Emma’s downfall was that she allowed herself to be a victim of circumstance. In Rodolphe’s letter to Emma breaking off the affair, he claims that “fate is to blame;” Later when Charles meets Rodolphe after Emma’s death, he, too, rationalizes that “fate willed it this way.” In a sense, they are right. Fate or chance, or more precisely matters of social and economic class, certainly do play a role.
After all, it is not a function of Emma’s will that she was born into a middle-class family; nor is it her fault that her lovers abandon her. It is even possible that her romantic, idealistic nature is a result of fate, and that Emma can’t control her actions because she can’t control her own identity or her natural inclinations. But there are two other factors that contribute to Emma’s downfall. The first is Emma herself-an agent making her own decisions. Emma chooses to marry Charles, she chooses to take lovers, and she chooses to borrow money from Lheureux.
She also chooses to commit suicide, proving in a final act that she has power-if only a negative destructive power-over her own life. The second factor that contributes to Emma’s downfall is the men around her. Charles contributes to Emma’s Downfall as his inability to satisfy her creates a real trap for Emma in combination with Rodolphe’s jaded heartlessness and Lheureux’s greedy scheming. Although she makes her own choices, these men severely limit the options she has at her disposal. Charles and Rodolphe’s claim that fate is to blame is too easy an excuse, both for Emma and for themselves.
Charles was sympathetic in his own way. Although, sticking with Emma thru thick and thin, until her death, he didn’t have the comprehension of what Emma truly needed. Although they communicated verbally, they didn’t communicate well intimately. If Charles could have tapped into his inner person, maybe things would have been different between him and Emma.