Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 2 Chapters 7 9 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Madame Bovary | Part 2, Chapters 7–9 | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Chapter 7 opens the day after Léon departs as Emma mourns his absence. She feels a similar "dull melancholy" that she felt in the aftermath of the ball. The loss of him only sharpens her desire, and she finds herself just as unhappy as she was in Tostes. She begins to grow sick again, and Charles anxiously asks his mother for advice. She advises him to forbid Emma to read novels, since they put too many ideas in her head that make her upset.

One day the owner of a nearby estate, Rodolphe Boulanger, brings his servant to be treated by Charles. Rodolphe notices Emma and tells her that the ordeal was worth it in order to make her acquaintance. After he leaves, he recalls how lovely she looked, and how ill suited her husband seemed for her. Telling himself that he must have Emma, he begins to devise a plan to meet her again, alone.

The day of the town festival arrives in Part 2, Chapter 8, and Rodolphe escorts Emma. They flirt with each other coyly, and commiserate over the fact that country people cannot appreciate their sophisticated styles. Rodolphe confesses to her that he is miserable living there, and how he wishes he had someone who cared about him. He tells Emma that fate must have brought them together "like two rivers converging." He also tells her that he is going on a trip, and not to forget him.

As Part 2, Chapter 9 begins, six weeks have passed without Rodolphe returning. Then one evening he appears. He goes to visit Emma, confesses his love for her, and wonders why they cannot yield themselves to "what is beautiful." Emma is taken aback, since no one has ever spoken so romantically to her. They are interrupted by the arrival of Charles, and Rodolphe covers quickly by offering up his horse for horse-riding lessons for Emma, though initially she refuses, giving in only after Charles encourages her.

A few weeks later, Rodolphe shows up to take Emma riding. They ride out into the countryside, and get off their horses in the forest to walk. When they reach a clearing, Rodolphe reiterates his feelings of love to Emma. He makes a physical advance toward her, but Emma fends him off, telling him she mustn't—but finally, they kiss. They meet again the next day, with their feelings and attraction still blazing. They write notes to each other every evening, leaving them for each other in a crack of the garden wall. One morning, after Charles leaves early, Emma makes her way to Rodolphe's estate. They continue their clandestine visits until Rodolphe says they are becoming reckless.

Analysis

Rodolphe bears a great resemblance to Léon in his boredom with life and infatuation with Emma, but he is a man of action; his seduction of her is quicker and more effective—he is much more aggressive than the timid Léon. His desire for Emma is also much more physical and immediate, rather than fantastical and romantic. For Rodolphe, love and lust are one and the same. He also seems to sense that Emma is primed for an affair, noticing her discontent in her marriage and life. Their feelings for each other once again echo the theme of appearances over reality, since each is infatuated with how the other looks, and neither seems interested in peering past those appearances. Emma compares all experience and ideals of love to what she has read in novels, which is not realistic. She believes that "she was entering something marvelous where everything would be passion, ecstasy, delirium." Yet all of those are abstract emotions and ideals, not tethered to daily reality. The combination of Emma's naïveté along with Rodolphe's experience leads the reader to conclude that their affair will likely end badly.

Charles's encouragement of Emma to take riding lessons from Rodolphe shows his innocence and faith in Emma, as well as his undying love for her. Readers begin to question whether Charles's ignorance is willful in the hopes of keeping her happy, or if he can really be that naive as the novel progresses. These chapters also show how Emma responds to heartbreak by spending money frivolously, a habit that leads to their financial ruin later in the novel. Yet nothing ultimately seems to fulfill her; she gives up hobbies and notions as quickly as she becomes interested in them.

Flaubert's description of the scene in which Rodolphe confesses his love shows his ability to use contradictions and juxtapositions. He methodically describes the award ceremony as a backdrop to Rodolphe and Emma's urgent discussion, flipping back and forth at a quickening, almost sexual, pace. Flaubert's care to describe each and every animal at the festival mirrors the exhaustive way in which he describes the characters of the novel, and the Prefect's speech full of platitudes is mirrored by Rodolphe's own clichéd speech about love to Emma. His speech is full of vague abstractions, such as "our unique inclinations have been pushing us toward one another"—there is no real substance to his words. At the same time that a woman is awarded for five decades of service, Rodolphe is encouraging Emma to be unfaithful to her husband.

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