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Charles Bovary shows up at boarding school in Rouen – he’s notable only for his work ethic and his horrendous fashion sense.
Charles goes on to medical school to become an officier de santé (a sort of junior doctor). He fails his exams at first, having squandered his time in the tavern, but passes on the second go.
Madame Bovary Sr. marries her son off to an unattractive, demanding, and supposedly wealthy widow. The couple takes up residence in the small town of Tostes.
Charles splints Monsieur Rouault’s broken leg at Les Bertaux, and meets Emma there.
Thinking of Emma, Charles returns to the farm time and time again to visit with father and daughter.
Charles’s wife complains about this, knowing that there’s another woman involved. Before long, however, she dies.
Charles and Emma have some alone time one day, after which Charles resolves to marry her.
The engagement is soon set – Monsieur Rouault loves Charles, and Emma thinks she does, too.
Charles and Emma are married at Les Bertaux, and a whole passel of family and friends descends upon the house.
After the wedding, the young couple moves to Charles’s house in Tostes.
Charles is impressed and pleased with Emma’s changes to the house. He does feel torn between his wife and his mother, who doesn’t approve of Emma, and is secretly just jealous that Charles loves her more.
Charles gives in to Emma’s every whim, even when her whims are expensive. He’s just tickled pink by his wife, and can’t believe his luck. Little does he know what Emma really thinks of him…
After attending the ball at La Vaubyessard and Emma’s subsequent depression, Charles consults with his mother and former teacher. They decide that a change of scenery would be good for Emma, so Charles finds a new post in Yonville.
The pair moves to Yonville as Emma prepares for the birth of their child.
Charles is unhappy in the new town, since he has no patients and few friends. Monsieur Homais quickly becomes his closest companion.
Homais and Emma convince Charles that he should undertake the clubfoot surgery. He attempts to learn the ins and outs of the procedure.
Operating upon Hippolyte, Charles makes a terrible mistake – he simply slices through the Achilles tendon, thinking that it’s the right thing to do.
It’s not. Hippolyte’s club foot is not cured, and it gets horrifically infected. A real doctor, Monsieur Canivet, has to be called in to amputate the foot.
Charles is mortified and ashamed. He feels bad every time he hears Hippolyte’s wooden leg clicking towards him on the street.
Charles gets over this embarrassment fairly quickly. He’s still desperately in love with Emma, and is infatuated with their child, Berthe. He envisions a future in which the family is loving and happy.
After Emma is dumped by Rodolphe, Charles is forced to handle the couple’s financial troubles. He signs more promissory notes with Lheureux, getting them deeper into debt.
Charles fails to see that Emma is cheating on him. He glibly goes about his business, thinking that everything is peachy keen.
On the day that Emma doesn’t come home, Charles goes mad with worry. He goes to Rouen to find her but, when he does, he immediately believes her cock and bull story about feeling ill, and gives her even greater license to run off with his permission.
When the property is seized, Charles is totally taken by surprise. He panics when he can’t find Emma anywhere.
The arsenic begins to act on Emma, and Charles doesn’t know what to do. He freaks out when he can’t figure out her symptoms, and writes urgently to Canivet and Doctor Larivière.
Monsieur Homais, Canivet, and Larivière all attempt to help Emma, but it’s pointless – the poison has already done its work. She dies; Charles is in a state of total despair.
Charles plans an expensive and romantic funeral for his beloved wife. When his mother complains about the expense, he finally stands up to her for the first time in his life.
After the funeral, Charles’s life never returns to normal. He misses Emma ridiculously and still loves her, even after he discovers her adulterous relationship with Rodolphe.
He begins to waste money on things that Emma would have liked, sinking deeper yet into debt.
After the elder Madame Bovary offers to take care of Berthe, Charles and his mother quarrel and break off their relationship again, this time for good.
Charles loses his faith in God, and loses touch with the other townspeople.
Charles stops seeing patients, and can’t care for himself or for Berthe. He grows more and more jealous of Homais, who seems to have everything he ever wanted.
One day, Charles and Rodolphe encounter each other. They awkwardly have a drink together; Charles ends by saying that he doesn’t blame Rodolphe for Emma’s adultery – only fate.
Still lovelorn, Charles dies at home, clutching a lock of Emma’s hair.