Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 2 Chapters 10 12 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Madame Bovary | Part 2, Chapters 10–12 | Summary

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Summary

In Part 2, Chapter 10, Emma grows paranoid after Rodolphe's warning, because she fears that if they are caught his love will be taken away. She and Rodolphe begin to meet in the garden after Charles falls asleep, but Rodolphe begins to grow restless at Emma's incessant sentimentality. Emma begins to notice that Rodolphe is not as tender and sweet with her, and that his indifference is growing. She receives a letter from her father that makes her recall the happiness and freedom of the old days, and dwells on what has made her so unhappy since then. Rodolphe and Emma begin to grow distant, and she wonders why she cannot just love Charles.

Homais has read about a new cure for club-foot. In Part 2, Chapter 11, he and Emma convince Charles that he should learn how to perform the operation to enhance his reputation as a doctor. Charles studies the procedure, then nervously performs it on a man in the village who has the affliction. The operation is initially a success, and Emma is delighted, for it will mean some fame and more money for them. But a few days later, the man's foot grows infected, and gangrene sets in. Finally the leg must be amputated by a different doctor. Emma believes her suspicions of Charles's mediocrity have finally been thoroughly proven. She rejects Charles's requests for comfort and reassurance, and when she meets Rodolphe in the garden that night her passion for him is renewed.

In Part 2, Chapter 12, Emma begins to suggest to Rodolphe that they run away together, an idea that he dismisses. He begins to grow weary again of her emotional insistence and finds that her words mean very little to him, as he merely sees her as his mistress—one in a line of many. Charles's mother arrives for a visit, and she and Emma clash over nearly everything.

Fed up, Emma begs Rodolphe to take her away with him. In anticipation, she orders a cloak and a traveling trunk from Monsieur Lhereux, who finds it suspicious that she claims she is not traveling anywhere soon. She and Rodolphe plot their exit: a shopping trip in a nearby city, from which they will take the train. Neither of them discuss the matter of Berthe, Emma's daughter. Rodolphe delays their departure a few times, and finally the final day is upon them. They meet in the garden the night before, where Rodolphe reassures her that everything is taken care of. Yet as he walks away from her, Rodolphe convinces himself that it cannot happen, that he cannot have a child and all the other expenses on his hands.

Analysis

By all appearances, Rodolphe is the man Emma has been waiting for. However, as their affair grows, it becomes obvious that Rodolphe is really a man of appearances and does not return Emma's sentimental feelings. He observes that "Emma was just like any other mistress; and the charm of novelty, falling down slowly like a dress, exposed only the eternal monotony of passion, always the same forms and the same language."

Flaubert is skillful here to draw an unlikely and unfortunate parallel between Rodolphe and Emma: both eventually grow bored when the fantasy becomes reality. Emma, by turn, can only picture their future together in the abstract: "in the immensity of this future hat she conjured for herself, nothing specific stood out: the days, each one magnificent, were as near alike as waves are." Emma still cannot relate to the concrete, day-to-day of life's existence, and this inability is her Achilles' heel that leads to all her unhappiness. And so by contrast she grows increasingly superficial and internally corrupt, growing bolder in her infidelity and increasingly reckless—and also more in debt as she seeks to use fine goods to slake her thirst for adventure, passion, and social status.

If Rodolphe can be described as the active to Léon's passive, Charles in these chapters can be seen as the real contrasted with the ideal, the anti-pragmatic. Even as Charles proceeds with a doomed medical procedure upon a town peasant, Rodolphe plots the end of his affair with Emma. Charles waits in the gloom of his study, contemplating how he might have saved Hippolyte's leg, or even healed his foot; Rodolphe lurks in the night planning a clinical and thorough amputation from a slightly maniacal mistress.

In some ways, Hippolyte's operation can be described as the novel's climax as well as the embodiment of many of its themes. It is a sort of betrayal of the Hippocratic Oath taken by Charles as a doctor to "do no harm" that is urged upon him by Emma as well as by Homais. Like his marriage to Emma, the surgery has the potential to catapult him into fame, wealth, and high society, or so Emma believes. Like his marriage, it is an unmitigated disaster. In a sense, Charles becomes Hippolyte: a man pure of heart if not entirely hale but content with his lot, who because of the unlikely ambitions of others is forever crippled.

It seems that Emma has escaped unscathed, but it seems more likely that she is the gangrenous part of Charles's person. Certainly, a poison is growing in her soul, causing moral and financial decay that will have to be amputated if Charles is to survive.

It is significant, and situationally ironic that Emma's love for Charles is conditional—if only he can meet her expectations, she might find a way to love him—while his love for her is wholly unconditional. Her expectations are also just as abstract as her ideas about love—fame and fortune are not concrete things that one can measure love by. She measures Charles's worthiness of love by his social standing, rather than by the person he is, and therefore seems unable to see his qualities of sympathy and kindness. In many ways, Charles is the ideal lover she seeks, but her clouded conceptions blind her to the reality of the husband she has.

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