We first see Emma at Les Bertaux, rather ineptly attempting to help with her father’s broken leg.
Charles keeps visiting Les Bertaux, supposedly to check on Monsieur Rouault, but really to check Emma out.
After an un-chaperoned visit, in which Emma talks her head off and Charles sits and listens, the two get engaged.
Emma wants a ridiculously romantic wedding at midnight, but her dad says no.
The actual wedding is a big affair in village society, and all the guests gorge themselves. Emma returns to Tostes with Charles.
We learn about Emma’s past as a Catholic schoolgirl.
Emma begins to feel unhappy about her marriage – she wonders if she was ever in love at all.
She gets a puppy, Djali, who becomes her closest companion.
Emma impresses a local aristocrat and he invites the Bovarys to a ball.
At the La Vaubyessard ball, Emma gets her first taste of the good life – she’s infatuated by it.
After the ball, she can’t stop thinking about her contact with wealth.
Emma starts to obsess over the idea of Parisian life. She creates an exotic imaginary world populated by rich and beautiful lords and ladies.
At this stage, Emma is a good housewife – she impresses Charles with her redecoration of the house and her little touches here and there. Her habits are somewhat expensive, but he doesn’t care.
Emma, however, gets more and more irritated with her husband, and with her life in general. She falls into a depression and suffers from uncontrollable mood swings.
Charles, distraught, decides to move away from Tostes, in the hopes that Emma will recover.
As they leave, we discover that Emma is pregnant.
The new town, Yonville-l’Abbaye, is indeed larger than Tostes, but that’s not exactly saying much. It’s still a smallish market town, not far from Rouen.
The Bovarys’ arrival in Yonville isn’t very fortuitous – Djali the dog is lost.
Emma meets Léon Dupuis, a young clerk, and the two quickly become friends. They’re both interested in books, music, and art.
Emma gives birth to a baby girl (she’s disappointed, since she’d wanted a boy). She can’t decide upon a name, and eventually chooses Berthe.
Emma realizes first that Léon is in love with her, and then that she is in love with him. She builds up a new fantasy life with him at the center.
At home, things get worse and worse. Emma can’t stand Charles, and her discontent explodes into rage. She attempts to resolve her issues by playing the role of the good wife, and even goes to talk to Father Bournisien, in an attempt to slough off her spiritual angst. It doesn’t work.
When Léon moves away, Emma’s fantasies are shattered. Once again, her emotions spiral out of control.
Charles asks his mother for advice – the older woman comes to visit, and antagonizes her daughter-in-law rather than helping. She thinks Emma reads too many novels, which are supposedly corrupting her.
Just when things are at their nadir, a new man comes into Emma’s life – Rodolphe Boulanger.
Emma impresses Rodolphe with her beauty and utility; she helps Charles with a blood-letting procedure and doesn’t faint.
Yonville throws a big agricultural fair, and Rodolphe escorts Emma around the exhibits. He’s at the top of his flirting game, and Emma falls for his poor-little-rich-man act.
After the fair, Rodolphe convinces Charles to let Emma go horseback riding. Emma resists for a brief while, perhaps knowing the danger of going anywhere with Rodolphe, but gives in when told she can order a new riding outfit.
Rodolphe and Emma set out for the woods, and Emma observes Yonville from a distance with disgust.
In the woods, Rodolphe leads Emma to a secluded glade and declares his love for her. She resists at first, but quickly surrenders herself, body and soul, to him.
Emma feels like a different woman. She’s an adulteress, and is proud of it. She feels as though she has attained a higher, almost mythical state of being.
Emma starts to spend money recklessly, pushing extravagant gifts on Rodolphe. Monsieur Lheureux keeps pushing her to buy more, and she borrows money from him to pay for it.
Enamored, Emma gives in totally to her passion for Rodolphe, even taking rather absurd risks to visit him at his chateau in the early mornings.
Rodolphe warns Emma that she’s getting too careless. She begins to worry about being discovered.
The two lovers find a new meeting place, in the secluded garden behind the Bovary house.
Emma and Rodolphe’s affair begins to cool down. She starts to feel guilty, and even attempts to love her little daughter more. She wonders why she can’t love Charles.
Speaking of which, Homais tells Emma about a new treatment available for clubfeet. The two of them decide that Charles should undertake this operation on a local clubfoot, Hippolyte. Charles gives in and says he’ll do it.
Emma gets excited about the prospect of this operation, which could potentially bring Charles fame and renown. She begins to cautiously warm up to her husband.
Unfortunately, the operation is a disaster, and Hippolyte ends up with his leg amputated, rather than cured. Emma’s disgust for Charles returns.
Emma runs back to Rodolphe’s arms, and they start up their affair with renewed vigor.
Things intensify, and Emma convinces Rodolphe that they should run away together. She totally believes that it’s going to happen, but he has major, major doubts.
Rodolphe’s doubts win in the end, and he writes Emma a totally sappy break-up letter on the same day they’re supposed to elope.
Emma falls into her worst depression yet – it’s so profound that it destroys her emotionally and physically.
After a slow recovery, Homais suggests that Charles take Emma to Rouen to see the opera, hoping that it’ll cheer her up.
Unfortunately, the opera is Lucia di Lammermoor, a cheery little diversion about a heroine that goes mad when forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. This hits a little too close to home.
However, some good does come from this outing for Emma – she and Charles run into Léon, who’s done with law school, and returned to Rouen a man of the world. They leave the theatre early to go and talk.
Léon convinces Charles that Emma should stay in Rouen for an extra day to see the end of the opera. We know that he really wants her to stay to hang out with him…
Léon shows up at Emma’s hotel the next day to woo her. They admit their love for each other, but Emma attempts to hold herself back. That evening, she decides to break things off with Léon before they even start, and writes him an explanatory letter.
However, she delivers said letter herself, and gets entangled with Léon all over again. They meet in the cathedral at Rouen, and after a comical tour given by an over-determined guide, the couple gets in a horse-drawn cab to, er, work out their differences.
We can only guess what happens inside the cab as it drives around all day. It’s obvious by the end of it that Emma and Léon are now an item.
Emma hurries back to Yonville, and is told to go next door to the pharmacy. There, she is met by a big to-do in the Homais household. Justin almost accidentally used a jar contaminated with arsenic for jam, and Monsieur Homais is totally enraged. Emma discovers the whole family panicking in the closet where the poisons are kept.
In the hustle and bustle, Monsieur Homais bluntly tells her that her father-in-law is dead.
Emma returns home to find Charles, distraught. Instead of being sympathetic, she’s impatient with him; she wants to be alone so she can think about her new affair.
Monsieur Lheureux arrives to discuss the many loans that the Bovarys have taken out. He ends up selling some more items to Emma, thus increasing the loans rather than decreasing them.
Lheureux convinces Emma to talk to Charles about gaining power of attorney, which would give her the right to control the couple’s financial matters.
Emma brings the power of attorney up with Charles, who agrees, and then goes to Rouen, supposedly to talk to Léon about the contract.
Emma remains in Rouen for three days, enjoying her time with her new lover.
To enable her visits to Rouen, Emma becomes a master liar. She tells Charles that she goes into town every Thursday for piano lessons. Her time with Léon is the highlight of each week.
Emma’s lies grow more and more convoluted, as she has to explain why she doesn’t come home one Thursday.
Finances continue to get worse. Lheureux convinces Emma to let him handle the sale of a small property that Charles’s father left in his will. Despite the money from the sale, Emma is up to her ears in debt, but she continues to spend glibly. She doesn’t have the patience to figure out exactly how much she owes.
Things with Léon start to cool off, especially after one Thursday in which he fails to meet her at their hotel room – Monsieur Homais is in town to visit for a day, and won’t let Léon get away.
One day, all of Emma’s chickens come home to roost – Monsieur Lheureux decides that its time to cash in on all of her debts. She manages to put him off for a while, and does everything she can to earn some money. She attempts to sell all of her beautiful things, but it’s no use. She even forces Léon to pawn some spoons her father gave her for her wedding.
After a long, debauched night of partying in Rouen with Léon and his friends, Emma realizes just how low she has sunk – the other women present are prostitutes.
Horrified, Emma rushes home. Her repentance is too late, though; Lheureux has had her property seized. She owes eight thousand francs, to be delivered in the next twenty four hours.
Emma desperately tries to get the money from everyone she knows – Léon, Monsieur Guillaumin (the town notary), even Rodolphe. Everyone rejects her.
Defeated, Emma rushes home. On her way back, she stops at the pharmacy, where she forces Justin to open the closet with all the poisons for her. Determined to die, she eats rat poison as Justin watches in horror. She threatens to blame him if he tells.
Emma goes home and calmly writes a suicide note explaining her actions.
After a while, the poison kicks in. Emma vomits profusely, and is wracked with pain. Charles doesn’t know what to do.
Emma’s condition worsens, and real doctors are summoned. However, it’s too late – there’s nothing to be done.
Emma realizes as she lies dying that Charles truly loves her, as nobody else has.