Study Guide

Madame Bovary Part 3, Chapter 1

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Part 3, Chapter 1

  • A lot of things happened to Léon in Paris. First of all, he studied law. Secondly, he studied women. He’s no longer the same shy boy he was before. All along, he held on to a vague hope that someday he and Emma might actually get together, even while he had new experiences with other women.
  • This new Léon is resolved to "possess" Emma. He’s determined and much craftier than he used to be. He follows Emma and Charles to their inn, then returns the next morning to scout out the situation. He discovers Emma in the hotel room…alone.
  • Léon has become something of a sweet-talker over the past few years. Perhaps he’s not at the same level as Rodolphe, but he’s getting up there. He and Emma talk and talk about the various sorrows of their lives. Sigh. Same old, same old.
  • Noticeably, Emma doesn’t say anything about loving another man, and Léon doesn’t say anything about kind of forgetting Emma.
  • Both of them make dramatic claims, each saying that life is miserable without the other.
  • Basically, this love scene is just one big string of complaints – there’s nothing romantic about that. Finally, Léon gives in and says out loud that he was in love with her.
  • All of a sudden the tension is broken, and old feelings come rushing out, created anew by their current proximity. Emma is startled by how much she remembers – she feels old and experienced.
  • They talk until night falls.
  • Léon suggests that they could start over again, but Emma, attempting to be noble, says that she’s too old and he’s too young (they actually aren’t that different in age, if at all).
  • It’s late – they’ve even missed the opera. Léon gets up to leave, but convinces Emma to meet him one more time. She makes their meeting point the famous Rouen cathedral.
  • That night, Emma writes a farewell letter of her own, explaining to Léon why they can’t be together. However, she can’t send it, since she doesn’t have his address. She decides to give it to him in person.
  • Before the rendezvous, Léon primps nervously. He even buys Emma flowers, and goes to meet her at the cathedral.
  • There, he’s met not by Emma, but by a cathedral guide, who attempts to give Léon a tour.
  • Emma’s late, and Léon grows more anxious. Finally, she arrives. She starts to give him the letter, but is seized by the desire to pray. Léon is both charmed and irritated.
  • As they’re about to leave, the guide comes up and offers to give them a tour again. Emma, concerned for her virtue, desperately says yes.
  • They follow the guide, not listening, through the cathedral and back to where they started. Before they get to the tower, Léon basically hurls a coin at the poor guide and pulls Emma away with him. The guide doesn’t get the picture – he just keeps coming back. The couple flees the cathedral rather comically.
  • Outside, Léon sends a little street kid to find a cab for them. Awkwardly, they wait alone – there’s a kind of aggressive tension between them.
  • The cab arrives. They get in as the cathedral guy yells at them from the church door, and Léon tells the driver to go wherever he wants.
  • The following is one of the most famous scenes of the novel. We see the cab rushing through Rouen aimlessly; we can’t see inside it, but we can, however, guess what’s going on…Léon keeps yelling up to the driver to keep going; he and Emma stay concealed in the cab.
  • The poor cab driver is tired and certainly weirded out. His horses are exhausted, and everyone’s demoralized. The passengers, however, give no sign.
  • Around mid-afternoon, a hand is seen throwing scraps of paper out the window; we assume it’s Emma bidding farewell to the well-intentioned farewell letter.
  • Finally, in the early evening, the cab stops. Emma calmly steps out of it and walks away.

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