Madame Bovary Summary

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert


     Madame Bovary begins with Charles Bovary's early years in school. Although he is not a particularly talented young man, he is pushed into medical school by his mother, who compensates for her lack of affection with her husband by doting tirelessly on her son. Charles becomes a doctor and marries an older widow who is consumed with jealousy.

     When the widow dies, leaving Charles with less money than he expected, Charles marries the daughter of a farmer whose leg he fixed several months before. The celebration is an elaborate feast. He finds himself entirely captivated by his new wife, Emma.

     Emma, a hopeless romantic with a penchant for fine things and scenes, believes herself in love until she realizes how mundane married life is. She finds Charles dull and stupid. She does not care for country life and for the town where Charles has set up his practice, Tostes. They are invited to and attend a glamorous ball at La Vaubyessard, where Emma comes into contact with wealthy people and their fine possessions. This exacerbates her desire to live in this manner. When she cannot, she falls into a deep depression.

     Thinking that the location is the cause of Emma's torment, Charles moves his practice to a town called Yonville. When they leave Emma is pregnant. When they arrive, she is quite taken with the law clerk, Leon. She and Leon have much in common.

     Emma gives birth a daughter who she names Berthe. She is terribly disappointed that she did not have a son, as she hoped that she might have a child who could freely pursue his desires as only a man can. She falls into another depression.

     When romance kindles between Emma and Leon, she pushes him away out of guilt and shame. She wants to be with Leon, but knows that an affair would be unforgivable. This propels her to be a better mother and wife. When Leon sees Emma catering to Berthe and Charles, he feels that she will never love him as he does her. He leaves to study law in Paris. Emma becomes depressed again.

     She begins a torrid affair with Rudolphe, who sets out only to seduce her. She is not very discrete about her affair, but Charles does not suspect anything from her. He is still very charmed by her despite the fact that she is disgusted by him. She spends lots of money on frivolous things, such as token gifts for her lover.

     When she has a small fight with Rudolphe, Emma vows to be a better wife to Charles. She thinks maybe he can be capable of some success. She encourages him when he decides to perform a risky surgery on a club-footed townsperson. The surgery, however, is a complete failure and the man has to have his leg amputated. Emma is more repulsed by Charles than ever and finds herself back in Rudolphe's arms.

     They make plans to run away together, but Rudolphe has no real plans to follow through. When the day comes, he sends her a letter telling her that he isn't going. She falls into a deep depression that nearly kills her.

     When Emma and Charles go to Rouen to see an opera in hopes of lifting her spirits, they meet up with Leon. Leon has partially forgotten about Emma after his escapades with other women, but determines that he would like to pursue her now. They rekindle their romance, which Emma no longer pushes away.

     Emma convinces Charles to let her have piano lessons in the city so that she can meet up with Leon. She spends a lot of money on furnishings for her house and new clothing. She insists upon having the nicest hotel rooms when they meet, and they have wonderful meals. Charles even pays for the fictional piano lessons. Despite many close-calls with people suspecting Emma, Charles never discovers her adultery.

     Leon is warned about the possible ramifications of his affair by his mother and boss. Emma grows bored of him and his reluctance to make grand gestures for her. She finds that they behave much like a married couple and that the spark of their romance has died. Meanwhile, her debts grow exponentially due to her lavish spending and the dry-goods merchant's loans.

     When the merchant orders seizure of Emma's property, she cannot believe that it is so. She seeks help from everyone, including Leon. Leon says he will help her but he doesn't. He thinks that she has been acting too strange. When Emma goes to Rudolphe for help, she isn't even aware that she is offering herself as a prostitute. His refusal humiliates her.

     She leaves Rudolphe's house and walks around, half mad. She is terrified of Charles discovering her secrets, both financial and adulterous. Her final conclusion is to commit suicide, which she does by convincing the pharmacist's apprentice to lead her to where she knows the arsenic is kept.

     Emma dies an agonizing death and Charles is consumed by grief. He soon discovers her letters from her lovers and is terribly upset, though he still does not fully blame her. Charles dies alone in his garden sometime thereafter, leaving their daughter to a life of poverty.



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