It’s a big day for little Yonville – the town fair. Everyone in the town is up early to set up for it. Binet, who doubles as the captain of the fire brigade, is all gussied up. The whole town is looking its best.
The only person who’s not too thrilled about all of this is Madame Lefrançois. Homais stops to chat with her, and she cheers up a little when she finds out that he’s on the fair advisory committee (he got there through a dubious claim that his knowledge of chemistry gives him advanced knowledge of farming).
Homais keeps talking, but his audience is not listening. We follow Madame Lefrançois’ gaze and see what has put her in such a foul mood – the town’s other tavern, her rival, is full of singing people. These good days won’t last too long, though; she tells Homais that she heard that Tellier, the barkeep, was in such great debt to Monsieur Lheureux that the tavern was going to be shut down the following week.
From the perspective of these gossiping neighbors, we see Emma and Rodolphe a little ways off, talking to Monsieur Lheureux. Rodolphe is obviously planning on making his move already – unlike Léon, he’s a pretty smooth operator.
Homais goes over to say hello, but Rodolphe manages to avoid him. He regards Emma as they walk along – he’s pleased with what he sees.
Monsieur Lheureux attempts to follow them and maintain their conversation, but they get rid of him quickly. Rodolphe immediately launches his attack and starts flirting openly with Emma once they’re alone.
The townspeople are assembled for various agricultural competitions. Rodolphe is supposed to participate in the judging, but he has other things on his mind. He turns all his attention to Emma, who responds eagerly to him.
He knows exactly what buttons to push – they talk about the frustrations of provincial life, the loneliness of existence…basically, all of Emma’s favorite subjects.
Their conversation is interrupted by the entrance of the fire brigade and the start of the awards ceremony. A government official, Monsieur Lieuvain, arrives to dole out the prizes; he gives a long, long, loooong speech about the government, the country.
While this is going on, Emma and Rodolphe continue their intimate conversation. Rodolphe claims that the only true duty is to enjoy what’s beautiful about life, and reject the conventions of society.
Emma feebly tries to argue that society’s moral standards are important, but Rodolphe shoots her down promptly. He’s the clear winner here; Emma is toast.
Monsieur Lieuvain, in the meanwhile, just keeps talking and talking. He’s full of governmental rhetoric, but he’s basically not talking about anything. Despite this fact, the whole town (except for Emma and Rodolphe) is enraptured by him.
Rodolphe quickly wins Emma over. All of her feelings about Léon, the Viscount at the ball, and her loneliness come rushing back, and re-focus on Rodolphe. She’s smitten.
Finally, Monsieur Lieuvain wraps up his speech. Another speech begins, and Rodolphe continues to woo Emma all the while.
Agricultural prizes are given for things as diverse as pigs, liquid manure (gross), and drainage. Simultaneously (in an inspired moment of truly ridiculous juxtaposition), Rodolphe declares his love for Emma.
The prizes, and the wooing, conclude with the awarding of a prize for long service, which is awarded to a confused little old woman. Flaubert describes this woman, Catherine Leroux, with rather excruciating detail; she’s obviously been broken down by years of hard work. She says that she will give her prize money to the priest, which offends Homais.
Following this ludicrous ceremony, a big feast begins. The townspeople, in a frenzy of communal gluttony, all stuff themselves.
Rodolphe isn’t interested in the food – he’s thinking of Emma and of the pleasure he’ll get from her in the future. Emma is off with Charles and the Homais family.
The grand finale of the festival is a display of fireworks – unfortunately, they’re too damp, and they barely go off. The evening ends rather anti-climactically, and everyone drifts back home.
Homais proceeds to write an enthusiastic, over-the-top article about the fiesta, and publish it in a Rouen paper.