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Emma sinks back into depression. Now that Léon is gone, she has nothing but her romantic fantasies left. It’s just like it was after the ball at La Vaubyessard – nothing seems good enough for her.
Léon becomes the center of Emma’s fantasy life – not the real Léon, mind you, but her own construction of him. Now that he’s gone, she curses herself for never giving into her love and…how shall we put this delicately…er, offering herself to him.
The memory of Léon becomes the center of Emma’s life; Flaubert compares this memory to a campfire burning in the middle of a desolate, snow-covered plain. Emma clings to it desperately for a while, but soon enough it dies down.
Eventually, the flame of Emma’s love for Léon dies completely, and she’s left in the dark. Her depression is again as intense as it was in Tostes. Emma melodramatically feels that her life will never be better now that she’s experienced something she thinks is real grief.
This time around, Emma attempts to console herself with material things. She goes on a shopping spree, purchasing a special prie-dieu (a kind of prayer bench), new clothes, and a variety of other pricey things. She also half-heartedly picks up some new hobbies, like learning Italian and reading "serious" books instead of novels, but quickly abandons them. She also acts with an astounding unpredictability – one day she even downs a whole glass of brandy, much to Charles’s dismay.
Emma is flighty and unpredictable, but she never seems to swing over to "happy." Her looks reflect her inner unhappiness, and she starts to complain about aging.
Her health is on the decline on the whole – one day she even spits up some blood. Charles is understandably worried, but Emma waves him off. She seems not to care whether she lives or dies.
Charles cares, though. This incident reduces him to tears, and the only thing he can think to do is write to his mother.
The elder Madame Bovary suggests rather vehemently that it’s Emma’s novels and lack of religion that make her ill – so Charles decides to keep Emma from reading them. He’s afraid to tell this to Emma himself, so his mother comes to take care of the matter. She cancels Emma’s library card herself.
Emma and her mother-in-law are not happy to see each other – Madame Bovary Senior leaves after three weeks of uncomfortable silence.
Mama Bovary leaves on a market-day and, after she’s gone, Emma hangs out her window, watching the merchants assembled sell their wares. In the crowd, she notices a real live gentleman in a fancy velvet coat. Shockingly, he’s headed towards the Bovary house.
The gentleman asks Justin and Félicité if Charles is available – apparently his servant isn’t feeling well and wants to be bled.
Charles gets Justin to help with the operation by holding a basin to catch the blood. The sight of blood is too much for both the servant and for Justin – both of them pass out cold. Emma has to come and assist with the remainder of the business.
Emma is undisturbed by the blood. She competently helps Charles and attempts to revive Justin. As she helps her husband, she looks particularly beautiful, even amidst all the mess.
Homais comes over, just as all of this is happening. He yells at Justin for hanging about the Bovary household instead of working in the pharmacy where he belongs; the boy heads back home.
The remaining party briefly discusses fainting – Emma has never done it. Monsieur Boulanger comments that it’s very rare that a lady should have such a strong constitution, but notes that some men are also really easily disturbed by blood.
Monsieur Boulanger sends his servant back home, but lingers to pay…and get a better look at Emma.
He’s shocked by how beautiful and graceful Emma is, and can’t believe that she’s married to Charles. We get the idea that Rodolphe Boulanger is bad, bad news. He’s handsome, brutish, and intelligent – a dangerous combination. Furthermore, he’s a real womanizer. Emma is out of her league with this guy.
Rodolphe decides to seduce Emma. He’s incredibly arrogant about it – he thinks he has her all figured out. Unfortunately, he’s right.