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The agricultural show is a major social occasion in Yonville. Early in the morning, as a crowd begins to gather on the main street, Homais and Madame Lefrancois meet outside the inn, where Homais delivers a lecture on the link between farming and chemistry. While they're talking, they see Emma and Rodolphe walking arm in arm down the street.
Do you find it odd that Emma and Rodolphe would make such a public display of their new relationship? Where do you think Charles fits in to this scenario? Does Emma care about Charles' reactions or about those of the townspeople? By bringing the two lovers together so soon after their initial meeting, Flaubert means to underline Rodolphe's seductive powers and Emma's desperate vulnerability.
Rodolphe tells Emma of his sadness and boredom with life in the country. Do you find his words convincing. How does Emma react? Does she know that Rodolphe is playing games with her feelings? He tries to appeal to her sympathy and love for melodrama by saying that so much of life has passed him by, that he's always been alone, and that what he yearns for most is a woman who will give him her undying affection and love. He seems to understand perfectly what Emma is all about.
Compare the descriptive passages in this chapter to the description of Charles and Emma's wedding and to that of the ball at La Vaubyessard. Notice especially Flaubert's description of animals, and his use of the same language and tone to describe both people and animals. Remember that Flaubert uses description as a form of commentary on individuals and society. What do you think he's trying to say about human nature in this chapter?
As the main speaker at the fair arrives, you catch a glimpse of Hippolyte, the stable boy at the inn, who will later play an important part in Charles Bovary's life. For the moment, you see him as he takes the horses from the speaker's carriage and leads them to the stable, limping on his clubfoot.
Rodolphe leads Emma to the second floor of the town hall where they can sit comfortably and watch the ceremonies down below. Their position above the action is a commentary on how they stand in relation to the rest of the town. The deputy opens the fair by paying tribute to the present French government and by describing a life where everyone in the country-worker, businessman, and landowner-can go to sleep without fear. Does his speech echo the platitudes of innumerable speeches, spoken by innumerable politicians, down through time? Or is he saying something original?
Once again, Flaubert employs the technique of parallel conversations as a counterpoint component of the scene he is orchestrating. If you compare the conversation between Emma and Rodolphe to the speeches of the orators at the fair, you see that both are studded with lies, cliches, and posturing. Both conversations are equally at odds with true feeling and meaningful communication, despite their superficial differences in subject matter. No one in the audience is really listening to the orator, who, like Rodolphe, is merely expressing the thoughts and feelings that he thinks his audience wants to hear. And Emma herself is so blind to her own motivations that she cannot see the lack of genuine feeling behind Rodolphe's words. What's more, Rodolphe does not hear the sincerity and desperate need in Emma's words.
Rodolphe patiently tries to appeal to Emma's romantic nature by telling her that "our duty is to feel what's great and cherish what's beautiful-not to accept the conventions of society and the ignominy it forces on us!" Though Emma argues that it's necessary to heed some of the opinions and values of society, some would say that she doesn't really mean it. Others might point out that Emma has a lot of middle-class characteristics, like her love for material things and her ability to discriminate between the fake and the real. Emma is not quite ready to rise above her own bourgeois upbringing.
As the speeches down below drone on, Rodolphe leans forward and stares intently at Emma. For a moment he reminds her of the Viscount at the ball at La Vaubyessard. She looks into the distance and sees "Hirondelle," the carriage, coming down the road-the same carriage that Leon took when he left town. Hirondelle is the French word for a swallow, which suggests that the carriage is a symbol of flight (escape from the mundane). See how this symbol works for other carriage rides that occur in Madame Bovary. The smell of Rodolphe's hair-so close to herintermingles with the smell of the ivy twined around the columns of the town hall. She awakens from her momentary reverie of Leon, and from the thought of the love that escaped her when he left.
The new speaker on the platform is discussing the connection between religion and farming. As he begins to award prizes for the best livestock and crops, Rodolphe takes Emma's hand and thanks her for not drawing away from him.
Most readers agree that this is one of the most humorous and ironic moments in the book. As Rodolphe takes Emma's hand and continues plying her with a string of phony endearments, a first prize is awarded for "manures." You might want to reread this chapter and note other instances where Flaubert is making humorous contrasts.
Rodolphe and Emma sit together in silence, their fingers intertwined. After the ceremony, Rodolphe takes Emma home. That night there's a huge feast, with all the residents of Yonville in attendance. Rodolphe sees Emma, but she's with Charles and he makes no attempt to confront her. After the fireworks, the townspeople say good-night and retire to their homes.
This is an important chapter because it exemplifies Flaubert's writing at its finest. The humor and irony that weave together the apparently unrelated talk of lovers and petty officials are a masterful way of presenting Emma and Rodolphe's attraction to one another. Notice the purely descriptive passages, the biting manner in which the pompous authorities are portrayed, and the parallels between the animal and human worlds. The peasant woman's faithful service to the farm is contrasted with the fleeting affections that Emma will receive from Rodolphe and her disloyalty to Charles. And the manure that wins first prize in the show is a parallel to the "manure" of Rodolphe's speech to Emma.
Notice that the award given to Catherine Leroux for her long service marks one of the few occasions in the novel where goodness is present, much less rewarded. Madame Bovary continues to be criticized by readers who find Flaubert's view of mankind totally negative.