Literature Study GuidesMadame BovaryPart 3 Chapters 9 11 Summary

Madame Bovary | Study Guide

Gustave Flaubert

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Madame Bovary | Part 3, Chapters 9–11 | Summary

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Summary

In Book 3, Chapter 9, Charles, after much persuading, makes plans for Emma's funeral. Everyone is shocked at the romanticism of it: she will be buried in her wedding dress with a crown of flowers. He studies her face, wishing he could bring her back to life. He grows lost in his memories of her, until the undertaker arrives to put her in the coffin. The townspeople begin to drift in to offer their respects. Emma's father arrives and faints when he sees the coffin.

Book 3, Chapter 10 begins as Emma's father recovers and falls weeping into Charles's arms. At the funeral Charles tries to pretend that Emma has only gone on a long journey far away, but once he sees the coffin he is overcome with rage and hopelessness. That night, while everyone sleeps, Justin weeps over Emma's grave, as he was in love with her too.

In Book 3, Chapter 11, Berthe asks for Emma a few times and then seems to forget about her existence. Charles is still being harassed over Emma's debts by Monsieur Lheureux, and is fraudulently given a bill for Emma's music lessons that she never took. Felicite steals Emma's dresses and runs away. One day Charles discovers one of Emma's old love letters from Rodolphe, and convinces himself that they must have loved each other deeply as friends. If anything, it confirms for Charles how much everyone adored Emma.

He tries to live his life according to her fashions and wishes, though he grows poorer and poorer, forced to sell off much of their furniture. Finally Charles discovers Emma's love letters from Léon, and can no longer deny her affairs. Afterward he becomes a recluse, refusing even to visit his patients. One day at the market he runs into Rodolphe, who invites him for a drink at the tavern. Looking at him, Charles wishes he could have been the other man in order to experience Emma's love. Finally, Charles tells Rodolphe he does not hold their affair against him because "fate is to blame."

The next day, Berthe finds him dead in the garden, clutching a clipping of Emma's long black hair. After his possessions are sold there is very little money left to pay for Berthe to go live with her grandmother. The grandmother dies and an aunt takes over her care; the aunt sends Berthe to work in a factory.

The novel ends with Homais, the pharmacist, having a thriving practice and competing with the doctors who replace Bovary. He is rewarded with a Legion of Honor cross for his good work.

Analysis

Rather than end the novel with Emma's death, Flaubert brings his narrative gaze back to Charles and Berthe in an attempt to show the repercussions of Emma's actions. Charles remains devoted to her memory despite discovering her infidelities. His heartbreak over this revelation is unsettling to the reader, as it seems that everyone in the novel is punished indiscriminately in one way or another. Emma's daughter is also sent away after his death to work as a common laborer, doomed to continue living in the poverty that Emma created. Cruelty is rewarded, in the form of Charles's debt collectors and Homais's receiving an award despite his constant manipulations.

Flaubert is careful to show how Rodolphe and Léon suffer little in the aftermath of Emma's death, while Justin and Charles mourn her loss deeply. These revelations give the novel a hint of tragedy, although the accession of Homais ends the novel on a note of situational irony; in his selfish pursuit of bourgeois success, the pharmacist has stood apart from the grand passions raging around him.

Charles's burial of Emma shows that, in many ways, he did understand Emma better than she thought he did. He knows that appearances and romance were important to her above all else, and his instructions for her funeral are a moving, fitting tribute to that. Yet her funeral also reveals that appearances do not always reflect reality, as evidenced by those who openly grieve for her, like Justin, and those who do not shed a tear: Rodolphe and Léon.

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