Study Guide

Madame Bovary Quotes

  • Dissatisfaction

    She had bought herself a blotter, a writing case, a pen and some envelopes, although she had no one to write to; she would dust off her whatnot, look at herself in the mirror, pick up a book, then begin to daydream between the lines and let it fall to her lap. She longed to travel, or to go back and live in the convent. She wanted both to die and to live in Paris. (I.9.13)

    Bored with married life, Emma can’t focus enough to commit to any hobbies. Her longing to live in Paris, which she thinks is the only place for her, is only rivaled by her melodramatic (and insincere) death wish.

    […] in the depths of her soul, she was waiting for something to happen. Like a sailor in distress, she kept scanning the solitude of her life with anxious eyes, straining to sight some far-off white sail in the mists of the horizon. She did not know how it would come to her, what wind would bring it to her, to what shores it would carry her, whether it would be a launch or a towering three-decker, laden with sorrow or filled to the gunwales with bliss. But every morning when she awoke she expected it to arrive that day; she listened to every sound, periodically leapt to her feet with a start and was surprised when she saw it had not come; then, at sundown, sadder than ever, she longed for the next day. (I.9.19)

    Emma is certain that something great is destined to happen to her. However, day after day, nothing ever happens. We are forced to wonder how long she can maintain this futile optimism for…

    This was the fourth time she had gone to bed in a strange place. The first was the day she entered the convent, the second was the day she arrived in Tostes, the third at La Vaubyessard, and now the fourth; and each one had marked the beginning of a new phase of her life. She did not believe that things could be the same in different places; and since her life so far had been bad, the remainder of it would surely be better. (II.2.17)

    Reflecting upon her short life so far, Emma is sure that the worst is over (even though nothing particularly horrible has happened to her so far) – she’s sure that her life is still waiting to really begin.

    Léon was tired of loving without having anything to show for it; and then he was beginning to feel that dejection which comes from a routine life when there is no interest to guide it or hope to sustain it. He was so bored with Yonville that the sight of certain people and certain houses irritated him almost to the breaking point; and the pharmacist, good-natured though he might be, was becoming completely unbearable to him. And yet the prospect of a new situation frightened him as much as it delighted him. (II.6.34)

    Emma’s not the only dissatisfied one in this book. Dissatisfaction, it seems, not so terribly uncommon in small-town life. Léon, who is, like Emma, young, romantic, and a little foolish, has the same longing for something new, but is afraid to go out and get it.

    What happiness there had been in those days! What freedom! What hope! What an abundance of illusions! She had none left now. Each new venture had cost her some of them, each of her successive conditions: as virgin, wife and mistress; she had lost them all along the course of her life, like a traveler who leaves some of his wealth at every inn along the road. (II.10.35)

    Again, Emma finds herself at a crossroads. She’s lost the optimism of her early youth, and now just feels a dull resignation.

    This was how they wished they had been: each was creating an ideal into which he was now fitting his past life. Speech is a rolling mill which always stretches out the feelings that go into it. (III.1.15)

    Upon their reunion, Emma and Léon both try to create new versions of the past few years, narrating things the way they want to see them, rather than how they really happened.

    [Charles] seemed to her contemptible, weak and insignificant, a poor man in every sense of the word. How could she get rid of him? What an endless evening! She felt numb, as though she had been overcome by opium fumes. (III.2.35)

    Emma is overwhelmed with disgust anew by Charles, after her blissful reunion with Léon. Her marriage is compared here to the dulling effect of opium…seriously not a good thing for any relationship.

    She always assured herself that her next trip would bring her profound bliss, but afterward she would have to admit that she had felt nothing extraordinary. Her disappointment would soon be wiped away by new hope, and she would come back to him more ardent and avid than ever. She would eagerly throw off her clothes, pulling her thin corset string so violently that it hissed like a snake winding itself around her hips. After she had tiptoed barefoot to the door to make sure once again that it was locked, she would let all her clothes fall in a single movement; then, pale, silent and solemn, she would fling herself on his chest and a long tremor would run through her body.

    And yet, in that forehead covered with beads of cold sweat, in those stammering lips, those wild eyes and those clutching arms, Léon felt the presence of something mad, shadowy, and ominous, something that seemed to be subtly slipping between them, as though to separate them. (III.6.23-24)

    Léon and Emma both seem to know that things are not right with their relationship – Emma tries to cover it up by simply trying to convince herself otherwise, but Léon can see the real cracks in the foundation.

    The first months of her marriage, her rides in the forest, her waltzes with the viscount, Lagardy singing – everything passed before her eyes […] And Léon suddenly appeared to her as remote as the others.

    "But I do love him!" she said to herself.

    No matter: she was not happy, and never had been. Why was life so unsatisfying? Why did everything she leaned on instantly crumble into dust? […] nothing was worth seeking – everything was a lie! Each smile hid a yawn of boredom, each joy a curse, each pleasure its own disgust; and the sweetest kisses only left on one’s lips a hopeless longing for a higher ecstasy. (III.6.29-30)

    Yet again, Emma looks back, mourning the opportunities she lost. Now, her perspective is far more cynical than ever before: she’s sure that no real man can offer her the ideal love she longs for.

    She was now living in a state of profound and constant lassitude. She often received writs, documents bearing official stamps, but she scarcely even looked at them. She wished she could stop living entirely, or sleep continuously. (III.6.75)

    This is where things start to really go downhill, fast. At the beginning of the book, Emma claimed to be so bored she could die, and we didn’t believe her – here, though, we worry that she means it.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Emma was inwardly pleased to feel that she had so quickly attained that rare ideal of a pale, languid existence, beyond the reach of mediocre spirits. (I.6.10)

    Even as a young girl, Emma feels the need to escape from the world of "mediocre spirits" – that is, everyone else. She prides herself on breaking free from convention.

    So they were going to continue like this, one after the other, always the same, innumerable, bringing nothing! In other people’s lives, dull as they might be, there was at least a chance that something might happen. One event sometimes had infinite ramifications and could change the whole setting of a person’s life. But God had willed that nothing should ever happen to her. The future was a long, dark corridor with only a locked door at the end. (I.9.22)

    Emma’s life, now that she’s stuck in a marriage, seems like it offers no possible escape, or even variation.

    "Doesn’t it seem to you," asked Madame Bovary, "that the mind moves more freely in the presence of that boundless expanse [the sea], that the sight of it elevates the soul and gives rise to thoughts of the infinite and the ideal?" (II.2.7)

    In talking to Léon, Emma shares her views more openly – as though in conversation with him she feels the same freedom she describes here.

    Sometimes, however, this hypocrisy became so repugnant to her that she was tempted to run away with Léon to some faraway place where she could begin a different life; but then she always felt as though some dark, mysterious abyss were opening up before her. (II.5.47)

    The possibility of escape from Emma’s marriage with Charles isn’t a real possibility at all – she can’t imagine what the alternative is.

    The whitish light coming in through the windowpanes wavered as it slowly died away. The furniture, standing in its usual place, seemed somehow more motionless, and lost in the shadows as in an ocean of darkness. There was no fire in the fireplace, the clock was still ticking, and Emma felt vaguely amazed that all those things should be so calm when there was such turmoil inside her. (II.5.21)

    Emma feels trapped by the simple stillness of her own house; she longs to burst out of it to a more active world.

    Emma squinted, trying to pick out her house, and never before had the wretched village she lived in seemed so small to her. (II.9.26)

    Riding with Rodolphe, the tiny world Emma lives in seems even smaller and more restrictive than she’d previously thought.

    Nothing around them had changed; and yet, for her, something more momentous had happened than if the mountains had been shoved aside. (II.9.50)

    After her first taste of freedom (the consummation of her relationship with Rodolphe), it feels as though Emma is in a new world.

    "Just think what it will be like when we’re in the stagecoach together! Can you imagine it? When the carriage begins to move I think I’ll feel as though we’re going up in a balloon, soaring up into the clouds." (II.12.36)

    Emma anticipates the sense of freedom she longs for, and hopes to attain through her elopement with Rodolphe.

    For Emma, there was something intoxicating in the sight of that vast concentration of life, and her heart swelled as though the hundred and twenty thousand souls palpitating there all sent her a breath of the passions she attributed to them. Her love expanded in that space, and filled itself with tumult from the vague clamor that floated up from below. (III.10.9)

    Approaching Rouen, Emma feels a sense of possibility and excitement that contrasts markedly with the feeling of disgust and constraint she felt looking at Yonville from a distance.

    Everything, including herself, seemed unbearable to her. She wished she could fly away like a bird and make herself young again somewhere in the vast purity of space. (III.6.82)

    With the whole terrible wheel of debt set into motion, lonely and despairing Emma wishes she could escape the catastrophe that is her life – but of course, that’s impossible.

  • Foolishness and Folly

    [Emma] considered herself much more unhappy now, for she had experienced grief and knew it would never end.

    A woman who had imposed such great sacrifices on herself certainly had a right to indulge in a few whims. She bought herself a Gothic prie-dieu; she spent fourteen francs in one month on lemons with which to bleach her fingernails, she sent for a blue cashmere dress from Rouen; she bought the finest scarf in Lheureux’s shop. (II.7.5)

    Emma is always sure that she knows best. Now that Léon is gone, her "grief" makes her feel like she’s really lived life. However, this is just a ridiculous excuse for the retail therapy she indulges in.

    "Don’t you know there are some souls that are constantly tormented? They need dreams and action, one after the other, the purest passions, the most frenzied pleasures, and it leads them to throw themselves into all sorts of fantasies and follies." (II.8.40)

    Here, Rodolphe attempts to tell Emma that her soul, one of these special ones that are always tormented, needs to give in to her desires – and to folly.

    "I’m wrong, wrong!" she said. "I’m mad to listen to you!"

    "Why? Emma! Emma!"

    "Oh, Rodolphe," said the young woman slowly, leaning on his shoulder.

    The broadcloth of her dress clung to the velvet of his coat. She tilted back her head and a long tremor ran through her body; weeping and hiding her face, she abandoned herself. (II.9.47-48)

    Emma knows theoretically she’s "wrong" and "mad" to give in to Rodolphe’s advances, but she does anyway.

    […] she was becoming terribly sentimental. They had had to exchange miniatures and cut off locks of their hair, and she was now asking him for a ring, a real wedding ring, as a symbol of their eternal union. She often spoke to him about the "bells of evening" or the "voices of nature;" then she would tell him about her mother and ask about his. Rodolphe's mother had been dead for twenty years, but Emma kept consoling him in the affected language she would have used in speaking to a bereaved child; and sometimes she would even look up at the moon and say to him, "I’m sure they’re both up there together, and I know they approve of our love." (II.10.28)

    Emma, given the opportunity, shows that she still has the same silly ideas about romance that she cultivated as a kid. She’s acting out the farcical part of a mistress in some trashy novel, and it makes her appear totally ridiculous to both us and Rodolphe.

    [Monsieur Lheureux] talked with her about the latest items from Paris, about countless feminine novelties; he was extremely obliging and never asked for money. Emma abandoned herself to this easy way of satisfying all her whims. (II.12.12)

    Sometimes we just want to grab Emma by the shoulders and shake her, yelling "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" This is one of those times. She just doesn’t seem to realize that buying things means that you’ll eventually be billed for them…

    "What a fool I am!" he exclaimed, swearing violently. "Just the same, though, she was a pretty mistress!"

    And Emma’s beauty, along with all the pleasures of their love, rushed back into his mind.

    For a moment he was deeply moved, then he rebelled against her.

    "After all," he cried, gesticulating, "I can’t go into exile and saddle myself with a child!" he told himself these things to strengthen his resolution. "And besides, all that trouble and expense […] Oh no! No, by God! That would be too stupid!" (II.12.58)

    Rodolphe knows too well what the consequences of his actions are; he’s a selfish man who would rather be a cruel heartbreaker than a fool for love. Though he’s tempted to give in to emotion in the same wholehearted, vulnerable way Emma does, he knows better than to surrender to folly.

    The sheets of the bed were sprinkled with holy water; the priest took the white Eucharistic host from the sacred pyx; and she was overcome with celestial bliss as she advanced her lips to receive the body of the Saviour […] She let her head fall back, thinking she heard the music of angelic harps coming to her through boundless space: and on a golden throne in an azure sky, amid saints holding green palm branches, God the Father appeared in all His majesty, motioning angels with wings of flame to descend to earth and bring her back in their arms. (II.14.5)

    Now, don’t get us wrong – there’s absolutely nothing foolish about religion when people actually believe in it. Here, though, there’s no real belief. Emma falls under the spell of a melodramatic, romanticized version of Catholicism, that she mostly constructs out of her own imagination, just like she did with her love for Léon or for Rodolphe.

    Lying became a need, a mania, a pleasure; so much so that if she said she had walked down the right side of a street the day before, it was almost certain that she had walked down the left. (III.5.56)

    Emma knows just how dangerous her situation is, but she’s addicted to lying – it’s become second nature to her.

    Emma became a little confused in her calculations, and her ears were ringing as though gold coins were bursting open their bags and raining down on the floor all around her. (III.5.74)

    Emma is not exactly the world’s best accountant – instead of figuring out the financial mess she’s created for herself, she just gets confused and bogged down by all the numbers, which, trust us, is not the right response.

    Sometimes, it is true, she tried to make a few calculations, but she always ended with such exorbitant figures that she could not believe them; she would then begin all over again, quickly become confused, drop the whole matter and forget about it. (III.6.58)

    Forget about it? Seriously? We have to wonder what exactly Emma thinks is going to happen here…everyone has to face the proverbial music sometime, after all.

  • Love

    In her longing she confused the pleasures of luxury with the joys of the heart, elegant customs with refined feelings. Did not love, like Indian plants, require prepared soil and special temperatures? Sighs in the moonlight, long embraces, tears flowing onto yielding hands, all the fevers of the flesh and the languors of love – these things were inseparable from the balcony of a great castle in which life moved at a leisurely pace, from a boudoir with silk curtains, a thick carpet, filled flower stands and a bed mounted on a platform, from the sparkle of precious stones or the aiguillettes of liveried servants. (I.9.8)

    Emma’s view of love, influenced by the novels she reads, is tied inextricably to atmosphere – she feels as though she can’t experience true love without the right setting, something of an odd and superficial claim.

    Love, [Emma] felt, ought to come at once, with great thunderclaps and flashes of lightning; it was like a storm bursting upon life from the sky, uprooting it, overwhelming the will and sweeping the heart into the abyss. It did not occur to her that the rain forms puddles on a flat roof when drainpipes are clogged, and she would have continued to feel secure if she had not suddenly discovered a crack in the wall. (II.4.16)

    Emma’s misconception of love leads her astray. Preoccupied by her idealistic view of how love "ought" to be, she doesn’t even recognize it when it creeps up on her gradually.

    Then she asked herself, "Isn’t he in love with someone? Who could it be? […] Why, it’s me!"

    All the evidence immediately became clear to her and her heart leapt. The flames in the fireplace cast a joyful, flickering light on the ceiling; she rolled over on her back and stretched out her arms.

    Then began the eternal lament: "Oh, if only fate had willed it! Why can’t things have been different? What would have been wrong with it?" (II.5.9-11)

    In addition to being tied to setting, love is also interchangeable with drama for Emma. As soon as she realizes that Léon is in love with her, she has to immediately wail and moan about the cruelty of fate, as is customary in the novels she reads.

    She was in love with Léon, and she sought solitude because it allowed her to revel in thoughts of him at leisure. His actual presence disturbed the voluptuous pleasure of her reveries. Her heart palpitated at the sound of his footsteps, but her agitation always began to subside as soon as he appeared, and she was left with nothing but deep astonishment which eventually turned to sadness. (II.5.42)

    Emma seems to be more in love with the idea of love than with Léon himself – she enjoys thinking about him, but not seeing him.

    "Poor woman! She’s gasping for love like a carp gasping for water on a kitchen table. A few sweet words and she’d adore me, I’m sure of it! She’d be affectionate, charming […] Yes, but how could I get rid of her later?" (II.7.36)

    Rodolphe, a masterful manipulator of feelings, recognizes the symptoms of a romantic disposition in Emma, and understands her immediately. His view of love is not as idealistic has hers; instead, he cynically realizes from the beginning that their affair has a very limited lifespan.

    She repeated to herself, "I have a lover! I have a lover!" and the thought gave her a delicious thrill, as though she were beginning a second puberty. At last she was going to possess the joys of love, that fever of happiness she had despaired of ever knowing. She was entering a marvelous realm in which everything would be passion, ecstasy and rapture… (II.9.58)

    As Rodolphe’s new mistress, Emma finally feels like all of the right circumstances have fallen into place (drama, passion, wealth) – she’s ready to experience love for the first time.

    [Rodolphe] made her into something compliant and corrupt. She remained under the influence of a kind of idiotic infatuation, full of admiration for him and sensuality for herself, a blissful torpor; and her soul, sinking into that intoxication, shriveled and drowned like the Duke of Clarence in his butt of malmsey. (II.12.23)

    This description of Emma’s love for Rodolphe is pretty repellent. Their love is not a respectful, beautiful mutual thing; instead, he treats her like an animal, and she, totally intoxicated by him, allows herself to be manipulated.

    But disparaging those we love always detaches us from them to some extent. It is better not to touch our idols: the gilt comes off on our hands. (III.6.23)

    Here, Flaubert touches upon a sad truth; once we start to pick out the flaws in the ones we love, they often lose their magic, and things start to fall apart.

    [Léon] resented her continuous victory over him. He even tried to force himself to stop loving her, but as soon as he heard her footsteps he would feel helplessly weak, like a drunkard at the sight of liquor. (III.6.25)

    Now Léon is the one in intoxicated thrall to his lover. Just as Emma was powerless in her relationship with Rodolphe, so too is Léon here. He’s addicted to Emma, despite his longing to escape from her.

    […] she saw another man, a phantom composed of her most ardent memories, her strongest desires and the most beautiful things she had read. He finally became so real, so accessible, that she was thrilled and amazed, even though she was never able to imagine him clearly, for his form, like that of a god, was lost in the abundance of his attributes. He lived in that nebulous realm where silk ladders swing from balconies bathed in moonlight and the fragrance of flowers. She felt him hear her; he was about to come and sweep her away entirely in a kiss. Then she would fall back to earth, shattered, for these vague amorous raptures tired her more than the wildest orgies. (III.6.74)

    Even after her carefully-constructed visions of love have been shot down, Emma continues to rebuild them, only now with a wholly imaginary lover at their center.

  • Women and Femininity

    Would this misery last forever? Was there no escape from it? And yet she was certainly just as good as all those other women whose lives were happy! She had seen duchesses at La Vaubyessard who had dumpier figures and cruder manners than she, and she cursed God’s injustice […] (I.9.36)

    Emma is convinced that she deserves more than some of the rich women she saw at the ball, simply because she is more beautiful than they.

    A man, at least is free; he can explore the whole range of the passions, go wherever he likes, overcome obstacles, savor the most exotic pleasures. But a woman is constantly thwarted. Inert and pliable, she is restricted by her physical weakness and her legal subjection. Her will, like the veil tied to her hat with a cord, quivers with every wind; there is always some desire urging her forward, always some convention holding her back. (II.3.12)

    Women in Flaubert’s day were far more restricted than their male counterparts, who were allowed to philander and experiment. Flaubert comments aptly here that women’s desires can never be fulfilled in a society that holds them back.

    And for a time she would be despondent and almost lifeless, gasping and sobbing softly with tears running down her cheeks.

    "Why don’t you tell Monsieur?" the maid asked whenever she came into the room during one of these crises.

    "It’s just my nerves," Emma would reply. "Don’t mention it to him, it would only upset him."

    "Oh, yes," Félicité said once, "you’re just like the daughter of old Guérin, the fisherman at Le Pollet. I met her in Dieppe, before I came here. She was so sad! When you saw her standing in her doorway she made you think of a funeral pall hanging in front of the house. They say it was some kind of fog in her head that was bothering her. The doctors couldn’t do anything for her, and neither could the priest. When it got too bad she used to go down to the beach all by herself, and sometimes the customs officer would find her lying face down on the pebbles, crying. Then after she got married it went away, or so they say.

    "In my case," said Emma, "it didn’t begin till after I was married." (II.5.48)

    This is a rare moment between women. Flaubert doesn’t show us much personal interaction between Emma and any other of the female characters (mainly because they’re largely unimportant). However, here we get a glimpse into the communal lives of women at this time – Emma is not the only one who suffers from this kind of depression.

    "Don’t you know there are some souls that are constantly tormented? They need dreams and action, one after the other, the purest passions, the most frenzied pleasures, and it leads them to throw themselves into all sorts of fantasies and follies."

    She looked at him as one looks at a traveler who has been in fabulous lands and said, "We poor women can’t even enjoy that kind of distraction!" (II.8.40-41)

    Rodolphe, here explaining to Emma why some people just have to give into their passions, can say this simply because he’s a man. Emma, who longs to succumb to her passions but fears what will happen to her, envies him that freedom.

    She remembered the heroines of novels she had read, and the lyrical legion of those adulterous women began to sing in her memory with sisterly voices that enchanted her. It was as though she herself were becoming part of that imaginary world, as though she were making the long dream of her youth come true by placing herself in the category of those amorous women she had envied so much. (II.9.58)

    At this point, Emma’s view of ideal womanhood is that of woman as lover – she’s proud of her adultery, because it allows her to feel like a romantic heroine.

    Her amorous activities changed her everyday behavior. Her glance grew bolder, her speech freer; she even had the audacity to walk with Rodolphe in public with a cigarette in her mouth, "as though she wanted to defy the whole world," people said. Finally even those who still had doubts lost them when she was seen stepping out of the Hirondelle one day wearing a tight, mannish-looking vest […] (II.12.24)

    Emma’s rebellion exhibits itself in the most shocking way: what really horrifies the villagers is her adoption of masculine habits.

    […] in the pride of her devotion she likened herself to those great ladies of the past whose glory she had dreamed of while contemplating a portrait of La Vallière and who, majestically trailing the ornate trains of their long gowns, had withdrawn into solitude to shed at the feet of Christ the tears of a heart wounded by life. (II.14.9)

    Emma’s perspective on the ideal woman has changed here, after her break with Rodolphe. She now reverts back to a more conventional symbol, that of the bride of Christ.

    [Léon] now savored for the first time the ineffable delicacies of feminine refinements. Never before had he encountered this grace of language, this modesty of attire, these languid, dovelike poses. He admired the exaltation of her soul and the lace on her petticoat. Furthermore, was she not a "lady" and a married woman – in short, a real mistress? (III.5.19)

    Léon is enraptured by Emma’s femininity; to him, she is the perfect woman, partially because she’s the first real lady he’s been close to.

    There was a clerk, two medical students and a salesman – what company for her! As for the women, she quickly realized, from the sound of their voices, that most of them must be of the lowest class. Suddenly feeling afraid, she pushed back her chair and lowered her eyes. (III.6.78)

    After years of thinking herself a member of some ideal, higher class of women, Emma comes to the brutal realization that she is perhaps no better than a common strumpet.

    "Women like that ought to be horsewhipped!" said Madame Tuvache.

    "Where is she now?" asked Madame Caron.

    For Emma had disappeared while these words were being spoken. Then the two ladies saw her hurry down the main street of the village and turn right, as though heading for the cemetery, and they became lost in conjecture. (III.7.78-79)

    In the tough world of Flaubert’s microcosmic world, women aren’t the gentle, sympathetic lambs his contemporaries made them out to be – instead, they’re actually the most brutal critics.

  • Wealth

    It seemed to her that certain parts of the earth must produce happiness like a plant indigenous to that soil and unable to flourish anywhere else. If only she could lean over the balcony of a Swiss chalet, or enclose her melancholy in a Scottish cottage, with a husband wearing a long black velvet cloak, a sugar-loaf hat and fancy cuffs! (I.7.1)

    What Emma really means is that love and happiness, in her limited view, only flourish where the soil is, shall we say, richer.

    Their clothes, better made, seemed of finer cloth, and their hair, brought forward over the temples in curls, seemed to glisten with more delicate pomades. They had the complexion of wealth, that white complexion that is heightened by the pallor of porcelain, the sheen of satin, the luster of fine furniture, and is kept in perfect condition by a moderate diet of exquisite foods. Their necks turned freely above low cravats; their long side whiskers descended to their turned-down collars; they wiped their lips with scented handkerchiefs bearing embroidered monograms. Those who were beginning to age seemed youthful, while those who were young had a certain look of maturity. Their faces wore that placid expression which comes from the daily gratification of the passions; and beneath their polished manners one could sense the special brutality that comes from half-easy triumphs which test one’s strength and flatter one’s vanity – the handling of thoroughbred horses, the pursuit of loose women. (I.8.21)

    Here, Flaubert describes wealthy men as though they are a totally different species, unlike the common folk that Emma is used to.

    Her trip to Vaubyessard had made a gap in her life, like one of those great crevasses which a storm will sometimes hollow out on a mountainside in a single night. But she managed to resign herself; she opened her drawer and reverently put away the clothes she had worn to the ball, including even her satin slippers, whose soles were yellowed from the slippery wax of the dance floor. Her heart was like them: contact with wealth something had left something on it which would not wear away. (I.8.51)

    Now that Emma has seen what wealth is like, it has become an obsession. The ball plants the seeds of greedy desire in her heart, even though she knows it can never be satisfied in her everyday life.

    In her longing she confused the pleasures of luxury with the joys of the heart, elegant customs with refined feelings. Did not love, like Indian plants, require prepared soil and special temperatures? Sighs in the moonlight, long embraces, tears flowing onto yielding hands, all the fevers of the flesh and the languors of love – these things were inseparable from the balcony of a great castle in which life moved at a leisurely pace, from a boudoir with silk curtains, a thick carpet, filled flower stands and a bed mounted on a platform, from the sparkle of precious stones or the aiguillettes of liveried servants. (I.9.8)

    Love and romance, in Emma’s mind, are connected to wealth. The impression is that only rich people really know how to love, which is frankly just ridiculous.

    Her carnal desires, her longing for money and the melancholy of her unfulfilled passion merged into one vast anguish, and instead of trying to distract herself from it she concentrated her attention on it, stirring up her pain and always looking for a chance to suffer. She complained bitterly about a badly served dish or a door left ajar, she lamented the velvet she did not own, the happiness that eluded her, her too lofty dreams, her too narrow house. (II.5.44)

    Emma’s longing for wealth ruins her enjoyment of life completely. Having seen how the other half life, she refuses to settle for anything less than opulence. Interestingly, she has a unique and unshakeable sense of entitlement that makes her believe that she deserves to be rich.

    "Still, though," said Emma, "it seems to me you’re scarcely to be pitied."


    "Yes, because, after all, you’re free…" She hesitated. "… rich…" (II.8.29)

    Freedom is also connected to wealth for Emma. Basically, all the positive things in the world stem from money in her eyes. She can’t understand why Rodolphe, a rich man, would ever be unhappy.

    "Everybody can’t be rich! Nobody has so much money that it can’t all be squandered away! I’d be ashamed to pamper myself the way you do, even though I’m old now and need to take care of myself […]" (III.5.81)

    Madame Bovary the elder makes an astute point – everyone runs out of money sometime. Emma, however, is never willing to listen to common sense when it comes to finances.

    A wide porcelain stove was purring beneath a niche occupied by a cactus plant, and against the oak-colored wallpaper hung two pictures in black wooden frames. Steuben’s Esmerelda and Schopin’s Potiphar. The table, already set, the two silver chafing dishes, the crystal doorknobs, the floor, the furniture – everything gleamed with meticulous English cleanliness; the windows were adorned at each corner with panes of colored glass.

    "This is the kind of dining room I ought to have," thought Emma. (III.7.48)

    Even though she’s in serious financial trouble, and is, in fact, at the notary’s house to beg for money, Emma still can’t help but long for the wealth she thinks she deserves.

    She had begun to drift into madness; she suddenly felt afraid and managed to regain control of herself, although her thoughts were still in disorder, for she no longer remembered the cause of her horrible state: the question of money. She was now suffering only through her love, and she felt her soul slipping away in the memory of it, just as a wounded man, as he lies dying, feels his life flowing out through the bleeding gash. (III.8.22)

    Again, we see wealth and love blend together in Emma’s mind – in her desperation, she can’t keep them straight. Was she at Rodolphe’s for love or money? She can’t tell.

  • Appearances

    Emma, once so well-groomed and refined, now went for days without putting on a dress, wore gray cotton stockings and used cheap tallow candles. (I.9.57)

    Emma’s depression exhibits itself through her unusual lack of attention to her appearance.

    Emma lost weight, her face became pale and gaunt. With her smooth black hair, her big eyes, her straight nose, her birdlike walk and the silence that had now become almost constant with her, did she not seem to be passing through life without touching it, bearing on her brow the mysterious mark of a sublime destiny? (II.5.40)

    We can always tell how Emma feels through her appearance. Feeling separate and special, she begins to look that way, too.

    The smooth folds of her dress concealed a tumultuous heart, and her modest lips told nothing of her torment. (II.5.42)

    Emma doesn’t betray her passions, and is able to maintain the façade of propriety, which apparently is all that matters.

    "She’s very nice, that wife of the doctor’s," [Rodolphe] was saying to himself. "Beautiful teeth, black eyes, dainty feet, and graceful as a Parisian. How the devil did she get here? How did such a clumsy oaf ever get a wife like that?" (II.7.33)

    Emma’s looks are enough to make Rodolphe think she’s out of place married to Charles in a place like Yonville – we see the power of her beauty here.

    [Rodolphe] was dressed with that incongruous mixture of casualness and refinement which the common people regard as evidence of an eccentric life, tumultuous passions, artistic aspirations, and always a certain contempt for social convention, which either fascinates or exasperates them. (II.8.25)

    Rodolphe’s contrived appearance, a combination of wealth, eccentricity, and calculated style, immediately sets him apart from the "common people."

    […] when she saw herself in the mirror she was amazed by the way her face looked. Never before had her eyes been so big, so dark, so deep. She was transfigured by something subtle spread over her whole body. (II.9.57)

    Emma’s affair with Rodolphe seems to completely possess her body, and somehow transform it.

    It was for [Rodolphe] that she filed her fingernails with the meticulous care of an engraver, faithfully rubbed her skin with cold cream and scented her handkerchiefs with patchouli. She wore all sorts of bracelets, rings and necklaces. On days when she expected him to come she would fill her two big blue glass vases with roses, arrange the whole room and adorn herself as though she were a courtesan awaiting a visit from a prince. (II.12.4)

    Adultery makes Emma even vainer than she usually is; her appearance becomes her main occupation.

    Madame Bovary had never been so beautiful as she was now; she had that indefinable beauty which results from joy, enthusiasm, and success, and which is essentially a harmony between temperament and circumstances. She had been gradually developed by her desires, her sorrows, her sensual experience and her still-young illusions, as flowers are developed by manure, rain, wind and sun, and her entire nature was now in bloom. Her eyelids seemed to have been made expressly for those long amorous glances in which her pupils were lost in profound reverie while her heavy breathing dilated her thin nostrils and raised the fleshy corners of her lips, with their delicate shadow of dark down. Her twisted hair seemed to have been arranged by some artist skilled in corruption; it lay coiled in a heavy mass, carelessly shaped by the adulterous embraces that loosened it every day. Her voice now took on softer inflections, and so did her body, even the folds of her dress and the arch of her foot gave off a kind of subtle, penetrating emanation. (II.12.36)

    Somehow, Emma’s body channels her emotions yet again; everything about her is sensuous, luxuriant, and incredibly sexy, even the fabric of her dress.

    With the diversity of her moods – by turns mystic, joyous, loquacious, taciturn, passionate or nonchalant – she awakened a thousand desires in him, aroused his instincts and memories. She was the amorous heroine of all novels and plays, the vague "she" of all poetry. He saw in her shoulders the amber skin of the "Bathing Odalisque"; she had the long-waisted figure of a feudal chatelaine; she also resembled the "Pale Woman of Barcelona," but above all she was an angel! (III.5.20)

    To the smitten Léon, Emma takes on the appearance of his artistic ideals; he reads his vision of the perfect woman into her.

    [Léon’s] soul was carried away by her sweet words and kisses. Where had she learned that depravity, so profound and so artfully concealed that it was almost intangible? (III.5.107)

    Again, we see how well Emma hides her inner state with her beautiful exterior – this juxtaposition grows more and more menacing.

    She looked extraordinarily beautiful to him, and majestic as a phantom; without understanding what she wanted, he had a foreboding of something terrible. (III.8.28)

    Emma’s beauty, heightened by her desperation, gives her a menacing power over Justin; again, we see her appearance impact those around her with an astonishing strength.

  • Repression

    Metaphorical expressions such as "betrothed," "spouse," "heavenly lover," and "eternal wedlock," which constantly recur in sermons, stirred previously unknown depths of sweet emotion in her soul. (I.6.4)

    As a young girl in the convent school, all of Emma’s fledgling physical desires are channeled into her religious fervor, and not allowed to exhibit themselves in any way.

    She played boldly, sweeping up and down the keyboard without faltering. Thus shaken by her vigorous touch, the old instrument, whose strings jangled, could be heard at the other end of the village if the window was open […] (I.7.6)

    All of Emma’s aggression, given no other outlet, is unleashed upon the unfortunate old piano.

    The housewives all admired [Emma] for her thriftiness, Charles’s patients for her courtesy, the poor for her generosity.

    Yet she was full of covetous desires, anger and hatred. The smooth folds of her dress concealed a tumultuous heart, and her modest lips told nothing of her torment. She was in love with Léon, and she sought solitude because it allowed her to revel in thoughts of him at leisure. (II.5.41-42)

    Here, Emma demonstrates her ability to go along with society’s rules on the surface, while she thinks naughty thoughts on the inside. We have to wonder how long she can keep up this tense dual life.

    […] the more clearly aware of her love she became, the more she tried to repress it in order to conceal and diminish it. She wished Léon would guess it, and she imagined chance circumstances that would have facilitated its consummation. She was no doubt held back by indolence or fear, and also by shame. She felt that she had kept him at too great a distance, that it was now too late, that all was lost. Furthermore, the pride and pleasure she felt when she said to herself "I’m virtuous," or watched herself in the mirror as she struck various poses of resignation, consoled her a little for the sacrifice she thought she was making. (II.5.43)

    Emma is torn here between pain and pleasure; she is pleased by her sense of self-sacrifice, but longs for an expression of the feelings she’s bottled up inside.

    The drabness of her daily life made her dream of luxury, her husband’s conjugal affection drove her to adulterous desires. She wished he would beat her so that she could feel more justified in hating him and taking vengeance upon him. She was sometimes amazed by the horrible conjectures that came into her mind; and yet she had to go on smiling, hearing herself told over and over that she was lucky, pretending to be happy, letting everyone believe it! (II.5.46)

    Everyone else’s insistence that Emma has a great life drives her crazy – but there’s nothing she can do about it. The thing is, she does theoretically have everything that should make a woman happy…she’s not supposed to have the desires that torment her, according to the rules of society.

    She cursed herself for not having surrendered to her love for Léon; she thirsted for his lips. She longed to suddenly run after him, to throw herself in his arms and say to him, "Here I am: I’m yours!" But she was discouraged in advance by the difficulties of such an action, and her desire, augmented by regret, became all the more intense. (II.7.2)

    Here, we see that repression just makes desires grow even hotter – being denied something makes Emma want it more.

    Rodolphe had moved nearer to Emma and was now saying softly and rapidly, "Aren’t you disgusted by the way society conspires against us? Is there a single feeling they don’t condemn? The noblest instincts and the purest affinities are persecuted and slandered, and if two poor hearts manage to find each other, everything is organized to keep them apart. They’ll try anyway, though: they’ll beat their wings and call out to each other. And you can be sure of this: sooner or later, in six months or ten years, they’ll come together and bring their love to fruition, because fate requires it and they were born for each other." (II.8.45)

    Here, Rodolphe basically tells Emma that they’re bound to get together, regardless of her marriage and the scandal it would cause. We get the feeling that he doesn’t really believe in all of this "love will conquer all" stuff – he just says it to get her to turn against the restrictive rules of the society she lives in.

    She did not know whether she regretted having given in to him or whether, instead, she wished she could love him more. Her humiliating awareness of her own weakness was turning into resentment, which was tempered by her voluptuous pleasures. It was not an attachment, it was a kind of continuous seduction. She was under his domination. She was almost afraid of him. (II.10.33)

    Emma’s domination by social convention has been replaced by a new domination – by her lover. Even as she sought to free herself from the oppressive constraints of society, she is still not at liberty to do as she likes, since Rodolphe now controls her emotions and desires.

    [Léon] did not understand the deep-seated reaction that was now driving her into a still more reckless pursuit of sensual pleasure. She was becoming more and more excitable, greedy and voluptuous; and she walked with him in the street with her head high, unafraid, she said, of compromising herself. (III.5.93)

    Once Emma breaks enough of the rules and continues to get away with it, she can’t go back – instead, she gets more and more reckless.

  • Art and Culture

    Endless sarabands ran through her head and, like dancing girls on a flowered carpet, her thoughts skipped with the notes, moving from dream to dream, sorrow to sorrow. (I.9.31)

    Emma comforts herself with whatever artistic outlets she can find – even when the best she can do is the beggar with the hurdy-gurdy. She doesn’t distinguish between highbrow and lowbrow.

    Emma went on: "And what kind of music do you prefer?"

    "Oh, German music, the kind that makes you dream." (II.2.10)

    With this statement, Léon establishes himself as Emma’s equal – someone who experiences art the same personal (and super-romantic) way that she does.

    "What could be better than to sit beside the fire at night with a book and a glowing lamp while the wind beats against the windows […] Your mind is free then," [Léon] went on. "The hours pass, and, without leaving your chair, you wander through countries that are clearly visible to you. Your imagination is caught up in the story and you see all the details, experience all the adventures; it seizes the characters and you have the feeling that you are living in their costumes." (II.2.10)

    Again, Léon unknowingly emphasizes their similarities by describing precisely the way that Emma reads books.

    "I hate commonplace heroes and lukewarm emotions, the kind you find in real life." (II.2.10)

    Emma boldly states her view of art and literature: she’s only interested in it as an escapist endeavor.

    "Do you know what your wife needs?" said the elder Madame Bovary. "She needs hard work, with her hands! If she had to work for a living, like so many other people, she wouldn’t have those vapors; they come from the silly ideas she fills her head with, and the idle life she leads."

    "But she’s busy a good part of the time already," said Charles.

    "Oh, busy! Busy doing what? Reading novels and other bad books that are against religion and make fun of priests with quotations from Voltaire! It can lead to all kinds of things, my son – a person who isn’t religious always comes to a bad end."

    It was therefore decided to keep Emma from reading novels. (II.7.14)

    Mama Bovary and Charles decide that it’s the books that have ruined Emma – thus openly expressing an anti-intellectual, anti-artistic undercurrent that Flaubert depicts in this middle-class society all the way through the novel.

    "I know very well," objected the priest, "that there are good literary works and good authors. But all those people of different sex gathered in a luxurious room decorated with all sorts of worldly splendor, and the pagan disguises, the make-up, the bright lights, the effeminate voices – those things alone are enough to create a licentious frame of mind and give rise to evil thoughts and impure temptations. At least that’s the opinion of all the Fathers of the Church… And if the Church condemned the theater," he added […] "she must have had good reasons for it." (II.14.19)

    Father Bournisien attempts to paint a malicious picture of the theatre as a den of sin, but he just comes off as being rather ridiculous.

    […] the elusive thoughts that came back into her mind were quickly dispersed by the overwhelming flow of the music. She abandoned herself to the soaring melodies and felt herself migrating to the depths of her being, as though the violin bows were being drawn across her nerves. (II.15.6)

    Emma feels the music much more than the average listener – she feels as though she is a part of it. This is analogous to the intensely personally way in which she reads books and looks at paintings.

    She filled her heart with the melodious laments as they slowly floated up to her accompanied by the strains of the double basses, like the cries of a castaway in the tumult of a storm. She recognized all the ecstasy and anguish that had once nearly brought on her death. Lucia’s voice seemed only the echo of her own heart, and the illusion that was now holding her in its spell seemed a part of her own life. (II.15.8)

    Emma surrenders herself totally to the opera, and over-identifies with Lucia. Rather than being able to appreciate the music for what it is, she inserts herself completely into it, losing her hold on reality.

    She was the amorous heroine of all novels and plays, the vague "she" of all poetry. He saw in her shoulders the amber skin of the "Bathing Odalisque"; she had the long-waisted figure of a feudal chatelaine; she also resembled the "Pale woman of Barcelona," but above all she was an angel! (III.5.20)

    Léon’s visions of the ideal woman are based on works of art; to make Emma fit his mold of the perfect woman, he superimposes them onto her.

    [Léon] was about to be promoted to head clerk; it was time to settle down and work hard. He therefore gave up the flute, exalted sentiments and flights of fancy – for every bourgeois, in the heat of his youth, if only for a day or a minute, has believed himself capable of stormy passions and lofty enterprises. (III.6.70)

    In the end, even good ol’ Léon is forced to give up his artistic aspirations in the name of real-life practicality…only Emma holds on to her extravagant romantic fantasies.