Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 2 Chapters 4 6 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Part 2, Chapters 4–6

Professor Bill Yarrow of Joliet Junior College provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 2, Chapters 4–6 of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary | Part 2, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



The season grows colder in Part 2, Chapter 4, and Emma begins to sit in her armchair every day to watch the village people pass by outside. She learns the sound of Léon walking past, which makes her shudder with emotion. Emma and Charles dine often with Homais and his wife, and one evening Léon joins the group. Léon and Emma seclude themselves in the corner reading poetry to each other, and continue conversing after the others fall asleep in front of the fire. Afterward, Léon agonizes over how to tell Emma about his feelings for her, while Emma tries not to think about whether or not she loves Léon. She waits for love to "come suddenly," like a storm.

Part 2, Chapter 5 describes a snowy day on which Charles, Emma, Homais, and Léon visit a flax-mill being built nearby. Emma observes Charles and Léon side-by-side, and notes how repulsed she is by Charles and how beautiful she finds Léon. Later that night, it dawns on her that Léon might be in love with her.

The next day she receives a visit from Monsieur Lheureux, the draper, who shows her items such as scarves and egg cups for purchase. She declines. That evening, Léon pays her a visit, though they mostly sit in silence, waiting for Charles to arrive. Léon notices that her demeanor seems to have changed—she is standoffish and praises her husband.

Something strange begins to happen with Emma—she becomes more attentive to Charles and the household, but the narrator notes that her demeanor "concealed a heart in turmoil," for she is indeed in love with Léon. Yet she would prefer to be alone with her fantasies of him—the sight of him upsets her. Léon remains confused and dejected, since he does not realize her feelings. Emma's maid, Felicite, assumes that she is depressed and tells her about a woman she knows who was very sad until she was married. Emma replies that her sorrow began after her marriage.

Part 2, Chapter 6 opens at the beginning of April as Emma is overtaken with the urge to visit the church. She confesses to the priest that she is miserable. The priest reminds her that humans are "born to suffer," and asks what her husband, as a doctor, thinks about her "condition." He dismisses her attempts at revealing her troubles, and Emma leaves, still distressed. When she returns home, little Berthe reaches for her, but Emma snaps at her daughter to leave her alone. Meanwhile, Léon considers moving to Paris, since he still feels tortured over his unspoken love for Emma and bored of the life he lives. After weeks of hesitation, he goes to say a final goodbye to Emma and kisses her hand.


Emma's thoughts about whether or not she loves Léon reveal how naive she is about the realities and nuances of love. The narrator notes that for Emma, "Love ... had to come, suddenly, with a great clap of thunder and a lightning flash." The language is taken from the tawdry romance novels common in Flaubert's day and forebodes disaster rather than love, but it aligns with Emma's desire to live in the realm of fantasy. Flaubert hints that living in this realm means that she never notices the cracks in the walls that storms bring, which foreshadows the way in which Emma loses interest at the first sight of predictability or reality settling in. Léon, in turn, seems to love the excitement that Emma brings into the boredom of his life, but he does not seem interested in getting to know Emma beyond their mutual love of fantasies. Even though they are both frustrated, they also seem strangely content that their love is unrequited, because then it will linger in the realm of fantasy that much longer. Their mutual timidity also prepares her to become bolder in her next affair.

Her observation of Charles and Léon side by side also reveals how she is deceived by appearances rather than reality, in particular when Charles produces a pocket knife, "like a peasant," she thinks. She forgets, or chooses to forget, that he is a surgeon, and that knives are the instruments of his profession. She also fails to see how useful the knife is to the situation, thinking only that he looks "stupid" and "irritating" while Léon appears "limpid" and "beautiful." In reality, Léon is fickle and flighty, while Charles is steadfast and loving. Emma's reaction to Berthe also shows how she abhors the reality of motherhood, since it does not directly benefit her fantasies of the life she wants to be living. Emma's moods and whims seem to be fickle: one moment she is trying to be a loving mother and wife, and the next she can barely stand the sight of her family. This constant flux shows how she seems to know how to exist only in a state of extremes, and foreshadows the impulsiveness of her suicide.

Emma's desperate conversation with the priest—and his inability to listen to her—reveals Flaubert's criticisms of the church in its ability to provide real comfort or guidance. Throughout the novel, Flaubert also uses Homais as a stand-in for criticism of the church, since he sees himself as a man of science and rationality. Emma's distress leads her to begin making decisions that will lead to her and Charles's financial ruin—Monsieur Lheureux preys upon her distracted state by tempting her to purchase things she cannot afford, yet cannot resist. He seems to realize she is someone who subsists on illusions, and he is able to offer her just that—the possibility that a certain style of fabric or trinket will help her achieve what she wants.

Emma's interactions with Monsieur Lheureux highlight a connection between her yearning for material goods and her yearning for a romantic affair. Emma seems to require a kind of physical gratification on both counts, and her ideals about both are directly linked to what she has read in novels and observed in being exposed to high society. But these ideals are abstract and based on illusions and fantasies—in her mind, the things she wants are a reflection of what she imagines being wealthy would be like. Emma has long believed that her actual position in society as a doctor's wife is beneath her, and if she can't rise above it in marriage then she will create the illusion that she occupies a higher status—a decision that drives her only further into debt and further from the life she dreams about.

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