Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 1 Chapters 4 6 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Part 1, Chapters 4–6

Professor Bill Yarrow of Joliet Junior College provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 1, Chapters 4–6 of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary | Part 1, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 4 opens by describing the many guests who attend the wedding, a procession that leads through the fields from the farm to the church. After the wedding the guests feast all day, and Charles and Emma spend their first night together; he is blissfully happy the next day. They depart for Charles's home; when they arrive, their neighbors are peering out their windows to catch a glimpse of his new wife, and his servant suggests that Emma look over her new house.

In Part 1, Chapter 5, Emma explores the house and notices that the bridal bouquet for Charles's former wife is still in the bedroom, and Charles hastily disposes of it. Emma cannot help but wonder what would happen to her own bouquet if she were to die one day. She begins to redecorate the house. Charles, meanwhile, remains happy and content, thrilled by the very sight of Emma and her belongings in their home. Every morning when he leaves, she watches him go from their windowsill, nibbling flowers from the flowerpots and blowing them at him with her mouth. His happiness makes Charles wonder if he had actually experienced true pleasure before now, and every day he cannot wait to hurry home and see her. Emma, for her part, wonders if she is actually in love, since her happiness does not seem to resemble what she has read about in books.

In Part 1, Chapter 6, Emma recalls how her father put her in a convent when she turned 13, which she enjoyed at the time because of its rituals and metaphors of love. It is at the convent that she begins to read novels about love and romance. Emma also learns of her mother's death while at the convent, and begins to find less solace in being there. She begins to realize that she loved the church not for its religion, but for its imagery of flowers and angels and love. Emma begins to grow rebellious, and her father comes to take her away. But even upon her return home she grows disillusioned by the countryside, and begins to miss the convent. Emma's recollection of this comes at a moment when she considers whether she can be truly happy in her new life with Charles.


By Chapter 5, the narrator's perspective moves more closely to Emma's, since she has now married Charles. Flaubert is able to fluidly shift from perspective to perspective through the eyes of what seems to be an impartial third-person narrator. The transition in narration also highlights some of the fundamental differences and tensions between Charles's and Emma's worldviews—she has a rich, imaginative internal world while Charles deals wholly in the physical and practical. Emma's almost immediate dissatisfaction comes as a surprise to the reader, since there has not been a glimpse of her inner thoughts until this point. It is telling that she fixates enormously on the wedding ceremony itself, without seeming to give much thought to the marriage that will follow. By contrast, Charles cares very little about the ceremony but revels in the day-to-day of their marriage.

Their wedding night foreshadows much of their relationship yet to come. Emma pleads with her father "to be spared the traditional antics" that would entail that she and Charles be carried to their bed and serenaded by the guests until the marriage is consummated. Emma seems shy and bashful, and whatever happens behind their closed doors remains a mystery to both the guests and the reader. Yet the next morning, Charles "seemed a different man," though Emma reveals nothing through her demeanor. But the guests catch a final glimpse of the two of them embracing intimately in the yard. This contrast in Emma's demeanor publicly and privately foreshadows her secretive nature, particularly when it involves physical intimacy with a lover.

The backstory of Emma's time at the convent colors in much of her tendency to over-romanticize situations, stories, and people, and also hints at how easily she can become disillusioned when reality does not match her fantasies. She seems to live in a world made up of dreams, and craves constant excitement and change. The narrator notes, "The metaphors of the betrothed, the spouse, the celestial lover and the eternal marriage, such as recur in sermons, excited a strange sweetness deep in her soul." It's significant that it is not the religious messages that resonate for Emma, but the fantasy of otherworldly love. Her tolerance for the ordinary day-to-day of marriage is nonexistent, and her disappointment in being married seems almost immediate, before it can even be given a chance.

While at the convent, Emma reads a book called Paul et Virginie, which is a romance novel about love and tragedy. Yet rather than see tragic aspects of the novel, Emma misses the point, yearning for the fairy-tale romance and passion she reads about. In light of Emma's flights of fancy, Flaubert invites the reader to judge Emma based on these tendencies, but the narrator offers no judgment either way on her reactions. The narrator's impartiality also reflects Flaubert's style of realism, which aimed to depict people and situations exactly as they were. To the modern reader, Flaubert's tendency to describe everything to the last detail might seem monotonous, but he aims to provide a painstakingly detailed landscape of middle-class life.

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