Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 1 Chapters 7 9 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Madame Bovary | Part 1, Chapters 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

In Part 1, Chapter 7, Emma wishes for a confidante in which to confide her "elusive malaise" about her marriage. Her attraction to Charles dwindles further, and he does not seem to notice her discontent. At the same time, Charles's mother dislikes Emma, whom she finds "too grand" and who she thinks spends too much money. Emma begins to resent her meddling in turn. Emma also begins to wonder what her life would be like if she had married someone else.

Near the end of September, Emma and Charles are invited to the home of the Marquis d'Andervilliers, the former Secretary of State. Charles had cured him of an abscess, and they began a friendship. They accept the invitation and set off for Vaubyessard, the home of the Marquis.

As Part 1, Chapter 8 begins, the Marquis and the Marquise welcome them into their chateau, and a sumptuous dinner is served for many guests. Afterward, the women leave to get ready for the ball to be held later, and Emma grows impatient and curt with Charles.

At the ball she marvels at the elegance of the wealthy people surrounding them. One of the men, a viscount, asks Emma to dance. Finally the ball ends, though Emma tries to stay awake as long as possible in order to preserve her feelings of excitement. They leave the next morning, and Emma loses her temper with the maid when they return home, firing her. The previous night and the ball seem to her further away than ever, though she tries as the weeks go by to recall it as much as possible.

When Charles is away, Emma takes out a green silk cigar case that Charles found on their drive home from the ball, as described in Part 1, Chapter 9. She imagines that it belongs to the viscount who asked her to dance. She daydreams that his mistress made it for him as a token of her love. She imagines that he lives in Paris, and buys a map in order to better visualize it. Her fantasies of life in Paris grow, and "as for the rest of the world, it was nothing, it was nowhere, it scarcely seemed to exist." She can hardly bear to think of the things in her own life, "the boring countryside, the general mediocrity of life."

Emma's mysterious ways and yearning for refinements enthrall Charles, who does not understand her but sees her "like a sprinkling of gold-dust along the narrow track of his life." Yet Emma begins to find him increasingly pathetic and irritating. She finds herself waiting for something to happen, anything that might change her life and fate—for better or for worse. She cannot bear the monotony of the same life day in and day out. She begins to rebel out of boredom, refusing to get dressed or manage the house. Emma begins to fall ill often, and Charles decides that they should leave their village, worried it might be something there that is making her sick. The day they leave, Emma burns her wedding bouquet in the fire—and it is revealed she is pregnant.

Analysis

Immediately after their marriage, the tension between Charles and Emma is established, and the question is posed whether Emma's dissatisfaction may run deeper than just her marriage. Her fixation on the viscount and life in Paris shows how much she exists in the realm of fantasy and dreams, and how much meaning she ascribes to them. Even though Charles is portrayed in an unsympathetic light by Emma—since he fails to get to know her internal world—by the same token, she makes little attempt to know him, either. For her, since their relationship does not resemble the narrow fantasies she has read about, she has little interest in considering that a different kind of love can be possible. Though Charles can be blamed for not getting to know Emma on a deeper level, it can also be pointed out that he does accept her for exactly who she is, not whom he thinks she should be.

Through Flaubert's realist portrayal, in particular the relentless details of the mundane and boring details of Emma's days, the reader is made to feel how monotonous Emma feels her life to be, as well as how repulsive and irritating she finds her husband. Emma observes at one point that "Charles's conversation was as flat as any pavement, everyone's ideas trudging along it in their weekday clothes, rousing no emotion, no laughter, no reverie." The description should be contrasted with Emma's starry-eyed experience at the ball, which is as overblown and idealistic as her vision of home life is boring and dreary.

Emma lives in a world of appearances without delving below the surface, an ironic situation for the wife of a surgeon, who spends his life probing the depths to cure his patients. Her situation is equally tragi-comic whether at home in the country or abroad in the city, where she is dazzled by how everyone looks and moves and speaks, and her brief encounter with the viscount sparks months of fantasies about his life. But in fact she knows little of the life of the bourgeoisie, and does not seem to care to know more about the real daily lives of the people she encounters. To know more would be to risk breaking the spell of illusion, and require her to see the flaws and realities.

Emma finds that in her own life, "everything in her immediate surroundings, the boring countryside, ... the general mediocrity of life, seemed to be a kind of anomaly, a unique accident that had befallen her alone." Already she longs to escape, believing that she is destined for a different kind of life. And so for Emma the ball becomes something to fantasize and dream about, and she lives in her memories of it as long as she can. The narrator notes that "her heart was just like that: contact with the rich had left it smeared with something that would never fade away." This observation causes the reader to wonder if Emma would have been happier had she never attended the ball. It also foreshadows the notion that Emma will always want more, more, more.

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