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Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 3 Chapters 4 6 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Part 3, Chapters 4–6

Professor Bill Yarrow of Joliet Junior College provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 3, Chapters 4–6 of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary | Part 3, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



In Part 3, Chapter 4, Léon grows preoccupied by thoughts of Emma and returns to Yonville, prowling around her house. The next day, he knocks on their door, and Charles is delighted to see him—but Léon cannot seem to get Emma alone. Finally they are able to meet in the garden, where they agree that their separation is intolerable. Emma promises to try to see him once a week, and orchestrates a scheme whereby Charles agrees that she must go into the city to get music lessons on a weekly basis.

Part 3, Chapter 5 describes Emma taking the carriage to the city every Thursday to meet Léon. They are so consumed with each other that they imagine their hotel is their house, where they will live for the rest of their lives as "perpetual young lovers."

After their trysts Emma goes to a hair salon and then catches the carriage to Yonville. She often sees a blind beggar there who frightens her with his song about women dreaming of love. He suddenly appears behind Emma at times, or clings to the carriage and rides along, singing with a sound that intensifies Emma's feeling of melancholy.

When she returns home every week, she is miserable. One evening Charles inquires about her music teacher—he ran into a woman with the same name who claimed to have never heard of Emma. Emma makes a big deal about looking for the receipts, and the next week Charles finds one in his boots. From this point forward, Emma's "existence was little more than a tissue of lies."

Monsieur Lheureux convinces Emma to sell off some property that Charles's father left them. He also confuses her into signing a receipt that gives her money now that she will pay back later. Charles finds out that she owes Monsieur Lheureux money, and writes to his mother to help them settle their account. His mother arrives, and berates Emma for all the money she has spent—and also tells her that Charles is ending Emma's power of attorney. In the end, Charles takes Emma's side, and his mother leaves, upset.

One night a few weeks later, Emma does not return from the city, and Charles is beside himself with worry. He rides into the city late at night and inquires after Emma at her hotel, but no one has seen her. He goes to every place he can possibly think of, and finally looks up the address of the music teacher. As he reaches her street, Emma appears, and Charles asks her where she has been. Emma replies that she was ill, and had stayed at the music teacher's house. She tells him not to worry so much in the future, and that it makes her feel "tied down" to know that if she is delayed he will become this upset. From then on, she comes and goes as she pleases.

In Part 3, Chapter 6, Léon invites Homais to dine with him, and when the druggist raises his suspicions about Léon and Emma, Léon protests. Emma is angry that she has had to wait at the hotel for Léon; she realizes that her passion for him is waning.

One day a stranger shows up at Emma's door and hands her a bill for 700 francs which Lheureux has signed over to a man named Monsieur Vincart. Emma sends him away but receives a summons from the bailiff the next day. She goes to visit Lheureux, and he frightens her more, blaming Vincart's greed and convincing Emma to take out another loan from him. Emma begins to write to Charles's patients to settle their accounts, and also sells some of her belongings. However, she has a great deal of confusion regarding how much she owes from her own bills. Tradesmen leave her house with angry faces; little Berthe wears stockings with holes in them.

Meanwhile, Léon begins to wonder if he should disentangle himself from Emma. Someone has sent an anonymous letter to his mother warning her that he was ruining his reputation with a married woman. His mother in turn told his boss, and both have made him swear never to see Emma again. At the same time, Emma herself begins to grow bored, and longs for some catastrophe that would force them to part, for she does not have the courage to instigate it herself.

After Emma returns from visiting Léon, Felicite hands her an order that she must pay off her debt of 8,000 francs within 24 hours, or else her home and furniture will be repossessed. She quickly pays Monsieur Lheureux a visit, and after trying unsuccessfully to seduce her, he tells her he cannot help her.


As Léon and Emma's romance begins to lose its shine, the reality of her financial situation begins to come to light. It is significant that Léon once saw her as "the lover in every novel, the heroine in every play, the vague 'she' in every volume of poetry," for none of those references are real people—they are fiction. As in her previous affairs, Emma and Léon have connected with each other as ideal illusions, but those illusions cannot be maintained forever, and so the shine begins to wear off. Léon's disenchantment grows as he is forced to themselves as deeply flawed people; Emma refuses to relinquish her romantic notions, continuing to see Léon as someone who can rescue her from her financial distress.

Meanwhile, Charles remains as naive as ever, unwittingly financing Emma's infidelity and causing them to sink deeper in debt. Her financial carelessness begins to mirror her moral carelessness. Lying has overtaken her life. Throughout, Flaubert has challenged the reader whether it is appropriate to judge Emma for a lack of power in a society that denies women power; now her carelessness is apparent.

Although the narration centers on Emma's thoughts, Flaubert is careful to show Emma through the eyes of those around her so the reader can obtain an impartial view of her character. In particular, Charles and Léon ponder over her actions in their own private thoughts. Léon realizes at one point that "he became her mistress rather than she becoming his," noting the imbalance of power between them in a way the reader has not and challenging the reader's assumptions about the extent of female power.

Yet Emma's brief and rare flashes of insight also illuminate for the reader her heartbreaking reality, such as when she realizes that "she was not happy, had never been so." Even though Emma exists in a foggy world of illusions and fantasy, she cannot hide from herself at all times. During those moments of clarity, she has nowhere to turn.

Throughout the novel, Charles remains the happiest and most joyful character, despite the fact that he is being deceived. Although his ignorance is his downfall, he lives in bliss for much of the novel, delighting in his love for Emma and their life together. By contrast, Emma is miserable for much of the novel as her fleeting moments of fantasy dissipate into reality. Charles may be delusional in his own way, but readers see his ability to find happiness in the mundane details of his existence as admirable.

The symbol of the blind man haunts her until the end of the novel—it will be the last image she sees before she dies. The blind man represents the opposite of Emma's desires, for his life is brutal and hard and harbors no fantasies, only the reality of pain and hunger. Emma's willful ignorance and disdain for his suffering shows how married she is to her life of fantasy and illusion. She is indifferent to anyone's suffering other than her own.

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