Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 3 Chapters 7 8 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Part 3, Chapters 7–8

Professor Bill Yarrow of Joliet Junior College provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 3, Chapters 7–8 of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary | Part 3, Chapters 7–8 | Summary



In Part 3, Chapter 7, the bailiff arrives the next day and begins inventorying the Bovary home. Emma is able to distract Charles but is worried he will find out what is happening. She travels to the city in an attempt to acquire a loan, but every banker refuses her. Finally she visits Léon and begs him to give her the money she owes. When he says he cannot, she accuses him of being a weakling. He then tries to raise money to help her, but he is also refused a loan. She encourages him to steal it from his office, but he says he can get a friend to loan it to him if she can wait one more day. As she goes to catch her carriage, she sees the blind beggar and gives him her last five francs.

The next morning she awakens to voices down in the square, and sees Felicite tearing down a large notice that everyone is gathered around. It states that Emma's furniture is to be sold off. Emma leaves to visit the lawyer Guillaumin, and describes to him her predicament. The lawyer already knows of it, as he is a close friend of Monsieur Lheureux. He tells her that he cannot help her, but begins kissing her hand amorously and hints that he will give her money "afterwards." She shouts at him that she is not for sale, and leaves.

In a last-ditch effort, Emma pays a visit to Binet, the tax-collector. The mayor's wife and her friend attempt to spy on them through an adjacent window, but they cannot hear their conversation. Eventually Binet turns bright red and asks Emma what her meaning is, and then Emma vanishes out of the house. She makes her way to the home of the woman, Mère Rollet, who had been Berthe's wet-nurse, and collapses on her bed. She asks the wet-nurse to go to her house and look for Léon, who had promised to meet her there with the money. The nurse returns and says that Léon is not there, but that everyone is looking for Emma. Emma thinks of Rodolphe and rushes to meet him at his estate.

In Part 3, Chapter 8 Emma discovers Rodolphe sitting by the fire, and he is shocked to see her. She asks him if they can begin again, and tries to seduce him. He replies that he loves her, and begs her forgiveness. She bursts into tears, and immediately asks him for money. Rodolphe realizes she is not there to declare her love, but to borrow money. He tells her he does not have it, and that he is in dire financial straits himself. Emma begins to chastise him for breaking her heart, and says she does not believe he is poor. She leaves, despairing and in a stupor; she can't remember how she got into such a state. Then a final idea comes to her in a moment that makes her feel heroic. She makes her way to the pharmacist's, and asks his assistant, Justin, for the key to the shop—she needs poison for the rats in her house. Justin, who admires Emma, reluctantly lets her into the shop, and Emma heads straight for the poison and begins eating it. Justin tries to stop her, but she says that if he tells on her, Homais will be blamed for her poisoning. Emma leaves, suddenly feeling at peace.

Charles returns home after frantically searching for her all day and finds Emma writing a letter that she tells him to open the next day. Then she lies down and waits to die. She begins to grow nauseous and cold. Her face turns blue and she begins to convulse while Charles begs her to tell him what she ate. She gestures to the letter; he reads it and realizes she has poisoned herself. He calls for Homais, and they try to figure out an antidote. Two other doctors arrive, but the outlook is dire. A priest is called, and after they pray Emma begins laughing to herself. Then Emma dies.


Emma is completely incapable of facing the financial realities of her situation. She has believed all along that she was living in a fictional world: a romance novel, a fairy tale, or an opera. The idea that actions have consequences is unfathomable to her. In an era when men manage all matters of business, the power of attorney had been a fatal decision. Her mistakes are now compounded with her decision to hide the legal inventory from her husband. Charles has to make provisions for his business, his wife, and his child before they are literally living on the streets; Emma has no understanding of these realities.

Instead, she makes three terrible decisions, which could almost be described as tragic except her naïveté renders them somewhat comic. First, she tries to "talk" her way out of her debts. The lawyer is obviously interested in something far more tangible, the physical relationship she has been willing to give to Rodolphe and Léon for nothing but that she is now reluctant to offer when it can save her home, her husband, and herself. For Emma to give herself to him would make the novel a tragedy; to preserve what she thinks of as her virtue makes it darkly comic.

Flaubert enhances the situational irony by calling out her "prostitution" while she is en route to visit Rodolphe. Here again, she envisions herself as a harried heroine pushed into the arms of a former lover for the sake of her distress. The situation is laughable because Rodolphe has no money and could not help her even if he wanted to. Her fanciful ideas have sent her from the arms of a lover who could have rescued her into those of a man who can do nothing for her.

Emma is no worse off than she was before, but her pride has been mortally wounded. She now makes her final, fatal decision, to take her life by poisoning herself. Again, she thinks of herself as a noble heroine, sacrificing herself on the altar of her virtue. "In an ecstasy of heroism that made her almost joyous," she takes the arsenic that she believes will show Rodolphe once and for all how great her love for him was. Instead she dies a violent, disgusting death, and Charles is left to clean up the aftermath, both literally and figuratively.

The only truly tragic figure in the novel is Charles, who loved Emma as she always wanted to be loved, idyllically. He is indirectly responsible for her death by failing to take a more active role in her deceitful, treacherous behavior. Yet readers cannot truly blame him for bowing to a force of nature like Emma.

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