Study Guide

Madame Bovary Part 1, Chapter 9

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Part 1, Chapter 9

  • When Charles is out, Emma lovingly looks at the green silk cigar case and invents stories about its origins. She imagines that an adoring mistress gave it to the Viscount – she even imagines herself in the role of the mistress.
  • Paris becomes a new obsession for Emma. She jealously looks at the fishmongers’ carts on their way through the village, thinking about their journey to the capital city. She buys herself a map of Paris, and studies it endlessly, imagining herself there.
  • In her passion for the metropolis, Emma attempts to cultivate herself by reading magazines about arts and culture. She learns all the details of fine Parisian life, and reads the novels of Honoré de Balzac and George Sand (two authors that wrote about Parisian society). In these books, she finds more and more similarities between the Viscount of her imagination and the characters.
  • To Emma, everything seems possible in Paris, a city of languid, beautifully-dressed women and extravagant, thrilling men. Everything else fades around her, and Emma lives completely in the fantastical (rather ridiculous) world she constructs.
  • Emma longs for luxurious boudoirs, lingering embraces, moonlit rendezvous. Instead, what she has is a number of awkward peasant servants in tattered clothes. To replace Nastasie, she hires a young girl, Félicité, who seems to be sweet but rusticated.
  • With nothing else to do, Emma wanders around the house languidly, wearing a fancy dressing gown. Bored, lonely, and utterly discontented, she halfheartedly wishes both to die and to escape to Paris.
  • Charles goes about his business, totally unaware of his wife’s unhappiness. He’s still his usual, dull self, perfectly happy and blissfully ignorant. He’s just so pleased with everything Emma does, and by her city-like airs. She attempts to create some kind of false happiness through buying things; Charles goes along with it gamely.
  • Everything looks great for Charles. His reputation as a doctor established, he generally does pretty well…that is, he doesn’t kill anyone. He prescribes the same course of treatment to almost everyone: sedatives, the occasional emetic, footbath, or leeches, and on special occasions, he bleeds people or pulls teeth. He attempts to keep current with the latest medical news by subscribing to a professional journal, but it doesn’t inspire him to any thrilling feats.
  • Emma is fed up with all this. She wishes Charles had more ambition and intellectual oomph. She is more and more irritated by him with every passing day. Even when she straightens his clothes in an attempt to make him look more presentable, it’s for her sake, not his.
  • She continues to talk to Charles, however – her reasoning being that if she has to resort to talking to the dog, she might as well talk to her husband.
  • Emma waits and waits, and grows more and more impatient with her unchanging life. She imagines a ship of dreams that will come and carry her away; unsurprisingly, it never does. Every day feels the same, and she’s sure that God has doomed her to a monotonous fate.
  • Disgruntled, Emma gives up on all of her pastimes – she stops playing the piano, abandons her sketchbook, and ignores her embroidery. She falls into a deep depression, and feels profoundly alone. She even wishes she could chat with Félicité, but her pride stops her. It’s not just Emma’s life that’s dull and unchanging; she observes the townspeople doing the same boring things day after day. We get the feeling that Emma’s not the only person who’s unenthused about provincial life.
  • A wandering peddler of some kind comes around on occasions, bringing with him a hurdy-gurdy (a kind of big music box). Emma listens to the waltzes and thinks of her brush with greatness at the ball.
  • Meals are the worst. Emma feels as though she can’t bear it any longer, as she regards the gross-sounding meals and watches her bovine husband slowly chew his cud.
  • By the springtime, Emma has given up on everything, including taking care of the house. She doesn’t even make the effort to maintain her personal appearance. Her mother-in-law arrives for a visit before Easter, and is shocked by the change; she’s taken aback, and can’t even muster up a critical comment. Emma actually succeeds in cowing the old Madame Bovary.
  • Emma starts to exhibit some kooky behavior. She goes on weird diets, has violent mood swings, and is totally unpredictable.
  • At the end of February, Monsieur Rouault comes for a visit and brings a huge turkey to Emma and Charles at Tostes to celebrate the anniversary of his broken leg (nice and weird, we know). Emma spends most of the visit with him, and is surprisingly glad to see him go. He reminds her of her hick background, something for which she has a great amount of contempt.
  • Actually, she’s contemptuous of pretty much everyone and everything at this point, so much so that Charles is shocked by her behavior.
  • All of this takes a toll on Emma’s health, and Charles gets worried about her frailty. He prescribes some rather useless cures, and it makes her seem worse than ever. She demonstrates what we might call manic-depressive symptoms around this time.
  • Emma complains and complains about Tostes, and Charles realizes that something about the town is making her unhappy. He ponders moving the little family elsewhere.
  • Oddly, Emma starts drinking vinegar to lose weight (the nineteenth century equivalent of SlimFast?). One of Charles’s old teachers diagnoses her with a so-called "nervous malady" (I.9.41), and it’s decided that they’ll move away.
  • Charles finds a slightly larger town called Yonville-l’Abbaye that needs a doctor, and decides to move by spring if Emma stays ill.
  • While preparing for the big move, Emma discovers her bridal bouquet in a drawer. While this might be a sentimental moment for some other women, she is disgusted, and throws it on the fire.
  • What else could Emma and Charles possibly need in their complicated lives? You got it: a baby. By the time they move away in March, Emma is definitely pregnant. You can bet her mood swings aren’t getting any better.

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