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Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 3 Chapters 1 3 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Part 3, Chapters 1–3

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

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



In Part 3, Chapter 1, readers learn that Léon still thinks of Emma often, and seeing her again has flamed his passion. He begins to formulate a plan for how they might be able to be together, finally. The next day, he finds Emma at the inn where she is staying in Rouen, and they pick up right where they left off, as though she had not fallen in love with another man. Léon tells her how he wrote her letters that he never sent, and imagined seeing her on street corners. He confesses that he loves her. Emma tells him to forget about her, but he convinces her to meet him once more the next day at the Rouen Cathedral.

That night, Emma writes Léon a letter stating they must never meet again, but not knowing his address decides to give it to him in person. The next day, Léon arrives at the cathedral at their appointed meeting time, bearing flowers. Finally Emma arrives, and goes to hand him her letter, then snatches it away. They leave, and Léon hails them a carriage. They have no destination, and Léon orders the coachman to keep driving. At last Emma's hand emerges, scattering her letter to the winds.

In Part 3, Chapter 2, Emma departs for home, but she misses her "diligence" (a public carriage) and has to take a cab to catch up to it on the road. When she arrives in Yonville, the cook tells her to go to Homais's home, as he has news for her. Homais's home is in a turmoil; the family is cooking preserves and a new young apprentice brings them a pan from the pharmacy that may have been contaminated with arsenic. In the midst of the confusion, Homais gives Emma the news: Charles's father has died. She returns home to Charles, but rather than show compassion for him she wonders how she can get rid of him. Charles's mother arrives a few days later, and Monsieur Lheureux pays them another ominous visit about the money they owe him, insisting that things will be better if Emma has a power of attorney to transfer the responsibility from Charles to herself, so Lheureux can deal with her directly. Emma agrees and tells Charles they will need to consult someone to help them settle his father's affairs. Charles unwittingly suggests Léon, and Emma offers to go to Rouen herself to talk with him.

In Part 2, Chapter 3, Emma spends three honeymoon-like days in a hotel with Léon on the harbor at Rouen. Léon wonders why, as Emma has told him, she is so anxious to get the power of attorney to manage the affairs of Charles's father.


Emma shows the flimsiness of her desires again once she is reunited with Léon, abandoning her newly rediscovered passion for the church. Flaubert leaves the actions inside the long carriage ride up to the reader's imagination, but it is implied that they finally consummate their love affair. It is significant that their affair turns physical so fast, since their earlier affair was purely emotional. It shows how deeply depraved Emma has become, that she is willing to have sexual relations in a carriage with a man with whom she has just been reunited. To Léon, it proves that living in the city has made him more suave and sophisticated, a dramatically ironic conclusion at which the reader is intended to both smile and sigh.

Emma's return home contains three warnings, each of which frighten her deeply and hint at a new attitude of obeisance. But each comes to nothing, and Emma is left bolder and more disillusioned than ever. The first is when she misses her "diligence" at the inn, at which "in her heart she felt already that cowardly docility that is for some women at once the chastisement and atonement of adultery." She almost wants to be caught, to cause a scene, so the melodrama she adores will spill over into her personal life with Charles.

Emma is then sent to Homais's, where the family is too distraught to attend to her curiosity. It is a moment of suspense for which she is unprepared, and it introduces the fatal element of arsenic. Even as she realizes that they have news for her unrelated to the accident, Homais's ongoing punishment of the apprentice shakes a book of sexual indecencies from his pocket, and he accuses the young man of defiling his children with his perverted ideas, implicating Emma even as she learns that her father-in-law has died.

Finally, as she returns home and finds herself unable to comfort Charles in his loss, he finds himself enchanted by a bunch of flowers her lover has brought her, and she quickly has to cover their presence with a lie, stating she purchased them from a beggar. By this time, she is able to reply "indifferently," knowing that she will not be caught: all the melodrama in her life is reserved for accidents of pots and pans and deaths of distant relatives about whom she cares nothing. No romance is reserved for her and her alone in her own home.

Given Emma's inability to manage any practical detail with practicality, suspicion might be raised when she offers to manage the family finances. Likewise, Emma's experience with romance novels should teach her that direct dealings with Monsieur Lheureux are not apt to be entirely financial; he is likely to use her debt for more salacious purposes. Neither appear capable of learning from past experience. The decision to get a power of attorney will prove to be disastrous for both of them, as Léon's musing at the end of Part 3, Chapter 3 foreshadows.

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