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Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 2 Chapters 13 15 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Part 2, Chapters 13–15

Professor Bill Yarrow of Joliet Junior College provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 2, Chapters 13–15 of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary | Part 2, Chapters 13–15 | Summary



Back at his estate in Part 2, Chapter 13, Rodolphe tries to write Emma a letter explaining himself. He looks over their old love letters, trying to remind himself why he loved her. They are mixed up with other letters from other women, and Rodolphe grows bored reading them, feeling that all these women are interchangeable. Finally, he writes to her that they would eventually grow weary of each other, and so he is doing her a favor by not eloping with her. He also tells her that he is leaving without her. He hides the letter in a basket of fruit he has delivered to her house, which Emma grabs with a sense of foreboding.

After she finishes reading the letter, she gazes at the ground below and considers jumping. Her thoughts are interrupted by Charles calling to her. Emma returns to the kitchen, and Charles casually tells her that Rodolphe is gone. Outside she hears his cart go by, and falls from her chair in a faint. They bring her to bed, where she falls into a fever for 43 days, during which time Charles never leaves her bedside. She slowly gets better, but upon seeing the bench where she used to meet Rodolphe in the garden she grows ill again. Meanwhile, Charles begins to worry about the state of their finances as well.

As Part 2, Chapter 14 begins, Charles considers that he owes Homais for all the medicine he has supplied for Emma, and their household expenses have risen now that the cook is in charge. He takes out a loan from Monsieur Lhereux, who also takes the opportunity to inflate Emma's bill from when she ordered the cloak and traveling trunk.

Emma thinks "everything she had once loved she now disliked," including the garden and her horse. She is visited often by the town priest and grows more religious. She has, for the most part, put Rodolphe out of her mind, and begins to dedicate herself to charity. She and Charles decide to visit the city of Rouen to see an opera performance.

In Part 2, Chapter 15, Emma is enthralled by the opera, and sees much of her own life and sorrows in the story and songs. During the intermission, Charles admits he did not understand the story at all. He goes to fetch Emma a glass of water, and when he returns he tells her he ran into Léon, who appears right behind him. The three of them go to a nearby cafe to catch up. Charles encourages Emma to stay in the city for the rest of the week to see the opera again.


Emma seems able only to shift perpetually between two modes: depressed or infatuated. This inability to find peace inevitably leads Emma to her fate. Yet Flaubert also hints at the fact of Emma's powerlessness, which she realized before giving birth. She would not be able to live on her own without Charles, and so she is condemned to either be married or be poor and helpless. Rodolphe, on the other hand, is able to walk away from their affair without a second thought, because he is a man who has control over his own life and its outcome. However, Flaubert provides no female character to contrast with Emma and thereby develop this theme, leaving the reader uncertain how far he intends to develop the theme of Emma's powerlessness and passivity as a woman.

Emma's behavior in this section begins to take its toll upon Charles, although he has not yet realized her treachery nor begun to feel its full effects. As a fellow professional with a superior social standing to Homais, Charles is not required to honor his debt to the pharmacist. His desire to do so demonstrates his personal sense of honor, which would be devastated if he knew the pretenses Emma has been using to purchase goods from Lheureux, or the means the shop owner is using to make money from him now.

Emma's reaction to Rodolphe's letter shows how intent she is on maintaining her fantastic vision. His letter contains little that is romantic, but she is willing to make herself truly ill, worry her husband nearly to death, and drive the two of them into poverty over the perceived "romanticism" of the situation. The reader is left to question what she will not sacrifice to hold onto this unrealistic and harmful vision.

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