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Free Study Guide-Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 12

Summary

Emma continues her affair with Rodolphe, but she often complains to him of her boredom and her husband's behavior. In an impatient outburst, Rodolphe states his inability to solve her marital problems. Emma suggests that they run away together, but he dismisses her notion as madness and changes the subject. Instead, he continues to call on Emma at home. Whenever he is expected, she beautifies herself and her room "like a courtesan awaiting a prince" and makes her maid Felicite wash all the linen.

Justin, Homais' helper, often helps Emma. He delivers letters for her to Rodolphe and cleans Emma's shoes, encrusted with mud acquired from the journey to and from her meetings with Rodolphe. Felicite wonders at the lad's devotion. Charles, who is financially in trouble, is constantly having to buy new shoes for his wife, who wears them out quickly, but he never complains. "In the same docile spirit," he pays for a wooden leg for Hippolyte at Emma's urging.

Lheureux is the one who supplies the leg and also several other things of "feminine interest" to Emma. He presents her with a bill of over ten francs. Emma, already in debt, cannot pay Lheureux. Sensing this, Lheureux asks that the riding-whip, which she supposedly purchased for Charles, be returned to him, but she hesitates. Seeing that she is cornered, he leaves. Luckily, one of the patients pays his pending account, and Emma is able to repay Lheureux.

Emma has given Rodolphe several expensive things, including the riding whip. Though hesitant, he accepts every gift. In spite of her generosity, Rodolphe does not declare his love for Emma. In response, Emma cries and declares her love for him. Rodolphe, however, has become quite indifferent to her passionate speeches. He shamelessly treats her as he pleases, aware that he has the upper hand in the relationship. Emma grows apathetic, a fact that is noticed by all of Yonville. Her mother-in-law makes life particularly miserable for her. Emma begs Rodolphe to take her away. He tries to get out of the suggestion by reminding Emma about Berthe; she simply declares that the little girl can accompany them. In the days following this incident, she dreams about leaving Yonville with Rodolphe. The thoughts of escape make her more agreeable. Charles finds her "as delicious, as utterly irresistible, as when they were first married." Even her mother-in-law wonders at the change in Emma.


One day Emma sends for Lheureux and orders a cloak, a case, and a traveling-bag. She does not reply when he asks if she is going on a journey. She also requests that nothing be delivered to her at home, saying she will collect the items from the workman herself. The plan is to run away with Rodolphe the following month. The details are fairly elaborate, but Rodolphe does not mention Berthe. After a few delays on Rodolphe's side, they plan Monday, the fourth of September, as the day of their departure.

Their final night together before they are to run away is a tender, blissful one for Emma and Rodolphe. He looks at Emma "strangely, with tenderness," but his feelings do not match those she is feeling. As Emma looks forward to their future together, Rodolphe merely replies in monosyllables. On his way home, Rodolphe makes the decision to harden his heart against Emma. He concludes that to run away with her "would have been too stupid!"

Notes

This chapter presents Emma's plan for escape from Charles with Rodolphe, a plan that reveals her total spiritual and moral decay. She has become openly defiant towards a society that expects her to stand by a husband who is weak-willed and unambitious. Frustrated with her life, Emma pursues Rodolphe with an increased passion that is driven by her aversion to her husband; she is also careless about hiding her liaison with Rodolphe. She employs Justin to deliver her letters to Rodolphe. Justin's devotion to Emma is obvious, and Emma's disregard for him is equally obvious.

The chapter is replete with indications of Emma's foolishness. It is obvious that she does not really love Rodolphe, she simply wants to escape from Charles, and "the more she gave herself to the one, the more she loathed the other." When she naively questions Rodolphe about his emotions and assumes he has never loved anyone but her, he openly laughs at Emma and says, "Did you think I was a virgin?" Emma is also foolish in her spending of money. She orders expensive gifts for Rodolphe from Lheureux even though she has no way to pay for them. The reader knows that this man is sure to take advantage of Emma when she cannot pay him. Emma's greatest foolishness, however, is her excessive romanticism. She dreams of an idealized future with Rodolphe, assuming he is really going to run away from Yonville with her.

In this chapter, Flaubert treats Charles in a less satiric tone. He shows him to be generous and loving to Emma and Berthe. It is almost like the author has now developed a sympathy for this naïve country doctor who can be so totally blind to the true nature of his wife. In total contrast to the naïve Charles, Flaubert depicts Lheureux as a sharp predator looking for a suitable opportunity to capture his prey. It is obvious that he senses that something improper is going on in Emma's life, and the shrewd and unprincipled man is sure to use the knowledge to his own advantage.

Finally, mention must be made of the imagery etched within the chapter. Emma's "indefinable beauty" is wonderfully described; in her eagerness to start a new life, she has blossomed physically, and Flaubert's words seem to capture the "subtle, pervasive essence" that flows from her. He also presents a masterful contrast between the first sexual union between Emma and Rodolphe and their last night together. The first time happened in the light of noonday; the last time in the darkness of night. The contrast suggests that their love has faded from brightness to darkness. The first time was filled with wild passion; the last time is filled with melancholic tenderness, "soothing sweet as the perfume (that) the white, aromatic flowers wafted, casting larger and more melancholy shadows on their memory than those the unmoving willows laid upon the grass."

Flaubert, through describing Rodolphe's emotions on this night, prepares the reader for his final decision. On the way home, he hardens his heart against Emma and decides he will not take her away. No one is surprised by his change of plans.

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