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Free Study Guide-Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert-Free Book Notes
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PART THREE

CHAPTER 1

Summary

During his days at law school in Paris, Leon had allowed his memories of Emma to dim; upon seeing her again, his passion is immediately rekindled, even though it has been almost three years. When he addresses Emma, Leon, no longer shy, reveals a new confidence. He is even bold enough to pay a visit to the Bovarys at their hotel. Charles is not in, and Leon and Emma converse "on the subject of their sorrows, each growing somewhat excited as they went further in confidence." Finally Leon blurts, "I loved you!" Emma becomes radiant on hearing his words. They talk until very late and arrange to meet in the Cathedral at eleven the next morning. Before leaving, Leon kisses her on the nape of her neck; Emma tries hard not to respond.

The next day, Emma arrives late at the Cathedral. Leon has been waiting for a while and is eager to spend some time alone with her. She is, however, aware of her "tottering virtue" and accepts a guided tour of the cathedral. Leon is clearly uncomfortable and whisks her away as soon as the opportunity presents itself. They enter a carriage, and Leon orders the driver to wander about randomly.

The night before, Emma had written Leon a letter explaining that they could not have a relationship. This note is torn into bits, which are tossed out the window of the carriage. At about six o'clock, the cab drops Emma off near her hotel. She walks away "with her veil lowered, and without a backward glance."


Notes

Leon's shy, modest nature is a thing of the past. During his time in Paris, he has acquired self-confidence and now talks openly with Emma. In their conversation, they speak of their past sorrows in such a lofty way that their words ring false. "They were both constructing an ideal of themselves and adapting their past lives to it." These two naive characters in many ways are both still wrapped up in romantic illusions regarding themselves; the three years that have separated them have not brought forth much emotional maturity in either.

When Emma meets Leon again, she is at a prime stage to embark on a second adulterous affair, for she is hungry for emotional fulfillment. She earnestly tries to curb her passion and resist Leon. She writes him a letter explaining that she will not have a relationship with him, but she rips it to bits when she is with him. She also comes late to meet Leon at the Cathedral, probably wrestling with herself about whether she should go at all; once inside, she lingers in the Cathedral, "trying to pray, in the hope that Heaven would suddenly fill her with resolution." She makes Leon go on a guided tour, so she will not face her mounting passion with him alone. The cathedral tour is written as serio-comic irony, for both Emma and Leon are full of passionate longings for the other, while the guide drones on about the famous dead buried on the Cathedral grounds.

It is also important to notice that Flaubert describes the church, from Emma's perspective. She sees it as "a gigantic boudoir." It should also be noted that the Cathedral, with its spires and its vastness, is a stock romantic symbol, indicating transcendence and mystery. Contrasted to this is the carriage, in which the lovers consummate their relationship. It is "sealed tighter than a tomb and ... buffeted about like a ship at sea." This image conjures a vision of death and foreshadows Emma's state in the last few chapters of the book.

The "scraps of paper" (bits of the letter Emma had written to Leon) land "like white butterflies in a field of red clover in full bloom." The image has two opposing symbols: white, denoting purity, and red, denoting passion and lust. The butterfly image also depicts fragility: here it is Emma's relationship with Leon that is fragile and doomed.

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