Madame Bovary Summary

Madame Bovary written by Gustave Flaubert talks about the elevated romantic standards of Emma Rouault. He portrays the agony that takes birth from her thirst for a lavish lifestyle and the lack of hold with reality which eventually incinerates her existence. The story starts off with the character introduction of Charles Bovary who is pictured as an ordinary, surface-level, herd-minded person who lacks passion or ambition. After the first unsuccessful marriage with an ill-tempered woman which ended up resulting in divorce, he wanted to remarry in hopes that he would finally find peace in his married life. He soon enough encounters a thrilling and dynamic personality in Emma Rouault which seemed like a ray of hope in his dried up romantic life.

Emma Rouault is a well-educated woman who had spent time working in her father’s farms. Suffocated by the present conditions of her livelihood and having an interesting set of expectations of romance and fantasy, Emma looked for opportunities to escape and find what she truly wanted. Her frame of romance revolved around sophisticated parties and lavish romantic gestures that were too sky-high for the reality the world existed in. However, the first time that Charles encountered Emma, she only thought of getting out of the farms and finally settling in the life of extravagance and romance she desired so much. They soon got married and moved to Tostes where Charles set up a practicing chamber and worked as a mediocre doctor. Not meeting up to the standards which Emma had initially dreamed of, she eventually succumbed to boredom. Her disinterest in Charles grew more and more as time passed and she ended up giving in to depression. Her mindset couldn’t let go of the high standards of living and expectations she once had, making her lose her will to continue the family with Charles Bovary.

Things kept getting worse and worse with time. Emma became more depressed and Charles had no clue what could be done. The events that unfold further when the couple got invited to a lavish party, hosted by the local aristocrats are unfortunate. This fed Emma’s expectations even further which affects her reality of not being anywhere close to this extravagance. The realization of her not belonging to this kind of a lavish lifestyle hit her harder than a wrecking ball, eventually paralyzing her sense of judgment. Charles saw how deteriorated his wife’s conditions had become and had decided to move closer to a bigger town named Yonville-l’Abbaye, hoping this would fix Emma in some way. When they are moving Emma finds out she’s pregnant. 

During the time of the couple moving, Emma had mental stability due to her friend Leon who worked as a clerk in Yonville. He had his residences with the town pharmacist named Monsieur Homais who had also become acquainted with the Bovary's for his selfish reasons. After Emma had her first child, whom she named Berthe, she had found herself getting too close to Leon, something that was crossing the line of friendship. After a long struggle with emotional conflicts, they had both realized that they have been in love with each other for a very long time and had been restricting themselves from confessing as the situations were not favorable. This love that had sparked between them put both in a trying position as Leon had to leave the town to pursue his education, meanwhile abandoning Emma with her miserable life where she remained depressed.

In the later events, it is seen that Emma ended up encountering a bachelor named Rudolphe who had a reputation of being a womanizer and was her wealthy neighbor. Rudolphe had fallen for Emma’s beauty and in no time, he had confessed his love for her, despite knowing that she was married. His charms and smooth talk had lured Emma into his clutches and she had absolutely fallen head over heels for the guy. Given her ill-health and mental conditions, any beam of “good” romance that met her ideal lifestyle would be enough for her to chase it. However, it was a tragedy that Rudolphe only wanted Emma to be his mistress and not take her as his wife. Baffled by this demand, Emma refused the condition but considering her desperation in this situation, it took little convincing for Rudolphe to take Emma as he willed. Soon enough, Emma had found herself indulging in the temptation of lust, having an extra-marital affair with Rudolphe and deceiving Charles. As the secret romance between Emma and Rudolphe commenced, piles of debt in her name keeps getting stacked up from the local merchant. Her wants are never put to a stop by herself because she was too deluded by her fantasies. This resulted in her in being too much in debt.

Her relationship with Rudolphe proceeds on for two years without the knowledge of Charles. But this also comes to an abrupt stop when Rudolphe decided to break up with Emma because he had become too bored of her and now wanted to move to a new lady. Just when Emma had planned to run away with Rudolphe, he had sent a handwritten letter telling her that he wanted to break up. This devastates Emma even more which emotionally paralyzes her and ends up worsening her depression. Charles, being oblivious to the root of the problem and feeling helpless in Emma’s situation, starts to give her unorthodox medicines in hopes of getting Emma to feel better. However, none of them ever worked and Emma had failed to recover in any way. On the other hand, their financial state was also continually worsening as Charles had a small doctor job and this did not provide for their needs. This makes Charles resort to taking a number of loans which eventually puts him in debt. The whole context of Rudolphe leaving Emma worked like karma in her case as Rudolphe, in character, was somewhat like Emma herself, except his ideas of romance was more short-lived than hers. Emma, feeling the disenchantment from her marriage with Charles leading her to cheat on him, came back full circle in the same way where now, she was the victim. Sadly, this shock did not dawn any useful realization on her and she remained oblivious.

In the next setting, Emma started to recover slowly and Homais asked Charles to take Emma to the opera so that they, along with their daughter Berthe, could have a rejuvenating experience after the bad storm. However, it does not turn out exactly as it was initially expected.  During their visit to the theatre, Emma and Charles came across Leon who had finished studying in the law school. He still had feelings for Emma which had been ignored in the middle for his educational priorities but now he seemed more headstrong about Emma than before. Emma also saw the sparks fly again but this time, she had decided to act on it immediately instead of waiting and restricting herself. She came up with various kinds of plans and excuses to meet up with Leon and fulfill her romantic desires and eventually, this resulted in their affection becoming stronger than ever.

Emma had gotten a shock after she had been notified of the amount of debt she was in. At the same time, her relationship with Leon had begun to go astray as she had started to grow a disinterest in him. The local merchant from whom she had been continuously borrowing money had started to charge her blasphemous rates of interest which had no logical implications. Because of this, Emma had been in a grave situation where she had to take action for the sake of paying off her liabilities. But because she had failed to do so, the merchant had come for their house and wanted to hold it as a mortgage. This petrified Emma so much that she started to knock on her acquaintance’s doors to seek financial help. However, no good luck came out of it and, in fear of the truth unveiling to Charles, Emma decided to pursue one last man she could’ve gone to for help: Rudolphe.  She proposes to become his mistress and in return she wanted him to pay for all her debt. This was a crucial turning point in Emma’s character where all her worldly desires had led her to own an identity anyone would resent.  However, Rudolphe refused to do so and Emma was left again alone, not knowing how she would solve her debt problems.

At the peak of extreme mental pressure and being in fear and guilt of Charles finding out about her affairs, Emma killed herself by with arsenic. She was honored by Charles as an ideal wife for a long while after her death until he came across all the letters from Rudolphe and Leon which set him off. However, knowing that nothing could be done with her already gone, he spent the rest of his days alone until death reached him.