A nameless first-person narrator (never heard from again after this chapter) recounts the day young Charles Bovary appeared at school.
Charles is an embarrassed, rusticated, slow, and bewildered rural fellow. Also, he’s a total fashion victim.
Charles has some difficulty managing his tragically ugly hat; the teacher and the other boys all mock him.
The class gets even rowdier, and the teacher assigns some lines to punish them. Things quiet down, though Charles is attacked with surreptitious spitballs.
The other boys observe the newcomer carefully. He’s not terribly bright, but he’s a hard worker. Next, we get some background on the Bovary family: Charles’s dad is a boastful but unsuccessful businessman who pretty much fails to support his family. His poor mom, whose money sustained her husband through his attempts at finding a career, is embittered, peevish, and obsessed with her son.
Charles received a half-hearted education, but spent most of his childhood left to his own devices, running barefoot around the village and chasing turkeys (Whoohoo!).
Despite his lackluster upbringing, Charles’s parents hope that he’ll make a name for himself. After a pretty average, unmemorable time at school, they enroll him in medical school, where he begins to appreciate the finer things in life: the stereotypical temptations of wine, women, and song.
After failing his exams once, then cramming like crazy and passing a second time, Charles manages to get certified as an officier de santé (health officer). This is kind of like a junior doctor; it’s a guy who’s not a real doctor, but is allowed to practice medicine.
Mama Bovary is happy. She sets Charles up in a nearby town, Tostes, then marries him off to a wealthy, needy widow. You’ve got to feel bad for the guy.