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Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 2 Chapters 1 3 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Part 2, Chapters 1–3

Professor Bill Yarrow of Joliet Junior College provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 2, Chapters 1–3 of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary | Part 2, Chapters 1–3 | Summary



As Part 2 begins Emma and Charles move to Yonville L'Abbaye, characterized by the narrator as a "sleepy market-town." The narrator describes the town in great detail in Part 2, Chapter 1, from the church to the market to the pharmacy—and after that "there is nothing further to see." On the evening that Emma and Charles are to arrive in Yonville, the action shifts to the town inn, the Lion d'Or. The inn's mistress, Madame Lafrancoise, converses with the pharmacist, Monsieur Homais, as she prepares dinner for her guests. Emma and Charles arrive at the inn for dinner; they are delayed because Emma's pet greyhound has run away.

As Part 2, Chapter 2 begins, Homais introduces himself and invites them to dine with him. A clerk named Léon Dupuis also joins them. Emma and Léon soon find themselves in deep conversation, agreeing upon many topics of interest—particularly their mutual boredom of small towns and their love of books as a form of escape. They talk all through dinner, engrossed in their conversation of "mutual sympathy." After dinner, Emma and Charles walk to their new home, and Emma observes that every time she has slept in a new place it has "marked the inauguration of a new phase in her life": the convent, Tostes, and the ball. She hopes this next phase of her life will be better than the earlier part.

In Part 2, Chapter 3, Léon arrives at the inn for dinner the next evening, hoping to see Emma again. Their conversation was a "huge event for him," as he had never before spoken to a woman for that long. He considers himself to be timid, and he is surprised at how easy it was to talk to her at length. Homais becomes a great neighbor to the Bovary family, though he has an ulterior motive: the Procurator Royal for practicing medicine without a diploma has denounced him. Though his pharmacy is not threatened, the threat lingers, and so he is conscious of attempting to win over Charles's favor. Meanwhile, Charles is nervous because patients are not coming to see him, and he is running out of money. His anxiety is countered only by the knowledge of Emma's pregnancy, since he feels it solidifies the bond between them.

The realization of her pregnancy at first astonishes Emma, and she grows impatient at knowing what it will feel like to become a mother. Yet she soon grows bitter when she realizes that their finances mean she is unable to spend as much as she wants in creating the perfect nursery, and gives up on the preparations "that rouse maternal tenderness." She does hope for a son, since she believes that men have much more freedom in the world than women. When she finally gives birth, it is to a girl. After great debate, she settles on a name for her: Berthe.

Berthe is sent to nurse with the town carpenter's wife, and one day Emma sets off to see them. Léon appears, and she pleads with him to accompany her, an action which sets the neighborhood gossiping. When they arrive at the house, Emma picks up her daughter briefly but puts her back after she spits up, and she and Léon leave as quickly as they came. Léon walks her home, and they seem to share a moment of flirtation. Léon returns to the edge of the forest to lie down, thinking about his boredom. Meeting Emma is the most exciting thing that has happened to him.


Flaubert takes great pains to describe the town of Yonville in different lights: from the perspective of Emma's boredom but also from the beauty of the countryside. It is by turns described as charming and oppressive, full of interesting characters yet incredibly mediocre in its day-to-day goings-on. In this way, he shows how both perspectives can be true, and readers can choose to relate with either Emma's weariness of her surroundings or Charles's feelings of contentment, as well as to judge either. In this way, the novel both creates a sense of moral ambiguity and invites the reader to participate in it.

The reader also realizes before Emma does that this life will bore her just as much as her life in Tostes. Flaubert's careful, detailed description of the town reveals its separation of social classes, and presages how the Bovary family will fall from its place in the middle class. Emma is wealthy enough to afford a wet-nurse, but she constantly yearns to be wealthier and to have the finest things available no matter the cost.

Emma's reaction to the birth of her daughter reveals a rare moment of self-awareness on her part. Emma does not show any real "maternal instincts"—something that would have scandalized Flaubert's readers—nor does she pretend to. Her initial excitement that becoming a mother will change her in some way only leads to her perpetual disappointment with how the realities of her life play out. It lends to her inability to maintain an interest in the reality of a situation once the fantasy is gone. Her revelation that men have more freedom than women is a profound insight on Emma's part. She notes that "having a male child was like an anticipated revenge for the powerlessness of her past," which shows that Emma sees how she has been trapped in many ways by being a woman with limited options. Yet her observation is also grounded in fantasy—fantasy for revenge.

Although on the surface Emma and Léon seem to have much in common, their bond is based on fantasies of books and faraway places—none of it is grounded in the realities of life. Neither really sees the other for who they really are, since they are so wrapped up in their common fantasies of what could be, rather than what is. Both of them also believe that outward markers, such as clothing, are indications of internal qualities, something that is also not reflective of real life, in which external appearances can often mask internal realities. They both believe that "Yonville has so very little to offer" them, and bond over their ability to escape "life's disappointments" by reading novels.

Flaubert shows Léon's idealism and unrest in stark contrast to Charles's simplicity and contentment, and readers notice right away how closely aligned Emma and Léon are from their first meeting. It's clear that Emma feels "understood" for the first time in a long time. The narrator notes "they embarked on one of those vague conversations in which every random phrase always brings you back to the fixed centre of mutual sympathy." By introducing their characters, Flaubert signals that Léon and Emma will become immediately drawn to each other out of this "mutual sympathy."

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