Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Part 2)

But the more Emma recognised her love, the more she crushed it down, that it might not be evident, that she might make it less. She would have liked Leon to guess it, and she imagined chances, catastrophes, that should facilitate this. What restrained her was, no doubt, idleness and fear, and a sense of shame also. She thought she had repulsed him too much, that the time was past, that all was lost. Then, pride, the joy of being able to say to herself, “I am virtuous,” and to look at herself in the glass taking resigned poses, consoled her a little for the sacrifice she believed she was making.

Then the lusts of the flesh, the longing for money, and the melancholy of passion all blended themselves into one suffering, and instead of turning her thoughts from it, she clave to it the more, urging herself to pain, and seeking everywhere occasion for it. She was irritated by an ill-served dish or by a half-open door; bewailed the velvets she had not, the happiness she had missed, her too exalted dreams, her narrow home.

In Part 2 Leon departs Yonville, to which the Bovarys have moved in the hopes of improving Emma’s humour. Unable to declare his affection for her, Leon leaves in despair for Paris, and Emma continues to flounder until the arrival of Rodolphe Boulanger.

Rodolphe, the charmer of women, tells Madame Bovary such lies as these while they are listening to the councillor’s speech at the fair:

“Ah! again!” said Rodolphe. “Always ‘duty.’ I am sick of the word. They are a lot of old blockheads in flannel vests and old women with foot-warmers and rosaries who constantly drone into our ears “Duty, duty!” Ah! by Jove! one’s duty is to feel what is great, cherish the beautiful, and not accept all the conventions of society with the ignominy that it imposes upon us.”

“Yet-yet–” objected Madame Bovary.

She still has the sense to disagree with the deception which flows from Rodolphe in the form of elegance, charm and fancy speeches. But, not for long. Her demise is slowly being revealed page by page since the novel began, first with her attraction for the Viscount at the ball, then Leon, and now Rodolphe who pulls away from her the more she clings to him.

Her life means nothing to him. At least, not as much as his own.

All the while, Emma’s despair grows.

I can’t help but wonder if Hippolyte’s club foot, rotting away in the wooden box that Charles made for it, is in some way symbolic of Emma rotting away in the ‘box he made for her’ with his “incurable incapacity.” In order for Hippolyte to survive, his foot had to be removed. But, Emma is not removing anything which causes her to slowly rot away. Rather, she continues to pursue her desires with Leon even after suffering Rodolphe’s disappearance.

I am reading this with Frances, and others, for the Madame Bovary read-along this October.

16 thoughts on “Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Part 2)”

  1. This may not shed much brilliant insight on the book, but the rotting clubfoot section made me genuinely woozy. Ugh.I thought it was interesting that both Emma's resentful virtuousness (with Léon) and her clingy abandonment (with Rodolphe) are portrayed by Flaubert as equally key in leading her down the path to destruction. It seems like it doesn't really matter whether she's acting "virtuously" or not, but that she doesn't have the tools to THINK about what she's doing.


  2. Wonderful to read your thoughts on 'Madame Bovary', Bellezza! From the passage you have quoted, Rodolphe looks like a really interesting character. Sad that he turns out to be not-so-nice in the end.


  3. Like your point about the rotting club foot here. And the box made for Emma. Again reminds me of Edna Pontellier in The Awakening who looks around and cares not enough for the box made for her. But Edna was so much more self-aware!


  4. Isabella, I've never thought of the club foot as symbolic before when I've read Madame Bovary; it's always struck me with particular force, but only on a physical level not on an emotional level of being constrained.Emily, it made me woozy, too, each time I read about the gangrene (can you imagine the smell?!). I completely agree with you that she's lost the tools to think about what's happening; it's like she's completely abandoned herself to self-destruction as if there was no other course. As if she was just a puppet, and not in charge of her life. I guess she wasn't, she gave up control when she gave in to Rodolphe in my opinion. And, it was a loose control at best before that.Vishy, Rodolphe is an interesting character…as far as having charisma with no character goes. You can see through him right from the start; at least, the read can. Poor Emma could see none of his flaws behind the exterior he presented.Frances, I can't remember Edna's 'box', I just remember that like Emma, she gave herself over to love and her life fell apart for it. She was more self-aware, perhaps, but she suffered equally disastrous results.


  5. The thing with Hippolyte is an interesting aside. it struck me also as having something to do with Charles and Emma's relationship- they moved to pursue her ambitions for him, which he didn't really want, being satisfied with their life; but then the move caused their relationship and marriage to start to rot from the inside out. the move was as unnecessary as poor Hippolyte's surgery. Hmm.


  6. Marie, I wasn't associating the move specifically with his foot, thinking more along the lines of "What encumbrances are our demise?" but surely their move was superfluous. It was a function of Emma's need, like the surgery was, which helped no one. Not even her.


  7. Like the others ahead of me in the queue today, Bellezza, I like your thoughts on the clubfoot healing debacle and its potential for symbolism. Of course, that chapter was disturbing enough when Emma just wanted to replace adulterous love with the wealth that was sure to be obtained by Charles' newfound fame as a surgeon! There was just too much to talk about in Part II, so I'm kind of sorry I didn't even get a chance to mention the storytelling in the fair scene in chapter 8 in my own post. Quite the interesting novel!


  8. Richard, the club foot episode has always upset me so much; I have to believe it bears more meaning than just another foible on the part of the Charles. I think it has to do with Emma once again being discontent with what she has, trying to force the issue into something glamorous, with the results of disaster. A pattern which followed her quite regularly!Audrey, thanks for coming to visit me on this post. I'll come over to you in just one minute, and I'm glad you found a line here that you'd previously missed. There are so many, I'm sure that no matter how many times we read (I read) Madame Bovary we'll glean something new.


  9. I'd thought more about the botched operation than the rotting of Hippolyte's leg. I like your analogy.Building up to the operation, Emma is desperately trying to convince herself that Charles is worthy of her love. The failure of this innovative operation completely dismantles her love, and our sympathy.


  10. Certainly the 'botching of the operation' is essential…the whole impetus for the operation was Emma's rampant discontent carried from her life over into Charles' and then transferred to Hippolyte. Did her "want for more" ruin everything she touched? I rather think so.


  11. I'm loving all the reviews I've read and the comments that follow. I wish I was up to the same part, but still it's been fascinating. I'm thoroughly intrigued by your analysis. I will look forward to 'catching up'. Thanks for putting out a unique analysis.


  12. Tamara, there are so many outstanding posts out there for this read along! Everyone brings a unique perspective, a fresh point of view, and I'm learning so much visiting each one. It seems I can never tire of reading Madame Bovary.


  13. When Rodolphe was talking to Emma during the fair, it made me think of a "devil on your shoulder" scenario, without an angel on the other side!I love the observation about the club foot operation–it makes me want to reread it again. I only saw the botched surgery as more of a social commentary, but now I'm seeing a few different perspectives.


  14. Shelley, you're so right about the devil on your shoulder. Or, in Emma's case, right in front of her! And, she bought every single thing he said. So sad. So desparate.


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