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Free Study Guide-Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER 8

Summary

As Emma draws closer to La Huchette, she is reminded of the "sensations of her first love." The melting snow is described as she makes her way to Rodolphe's room. He is surprised at her sudden appearance. Emma reproaches Rodolphe for deserting her and urges him to renew their relationship. Rodolphe is taken in with Emma's show of 'undying' love and attempts to find out the cause of her sorrow. Her answer leaves him stunned, for she has explained that she is urgently in need of a large sum of money to clear up a debt. Rodolphe calmly states his inability to help her. Angered and humiliated, Emma gives Rodolphe a piece of her mind before leaving. She runs from La Huchette in a dazed state.

Night is falling as Emma becomes fully conscious of "the deep hopelessness of her plight." She hurries to the chemist's shop, where she persuades Justin to lead her to the storeroom. All the while, the young boy has a "presentiment of something terrible." Once in the storeroom, Emma goes directly to a blue jar of arsenic and uncorks it. She plunges her hand into the jar and crams the white powder into her mouth. Justin tries to stop her. She calmly tells him that his master will be blamed for her act. Then she walks off.

At home, she writes a letter, seals it, and solemnly tells Charles to read it the next day. She stretches herself on the bed, expecting to die in her sleep. Instead, she soon displays violent symptoms of illness. Charles notices a white sediment at the base of the basin in which she has just vomited. When her body is wracked with convulsions, he becomes desperate. He tears open her letter and learns that she has poisoned herself. Homais is called. He, in turn, sends for Monsieur Canivet and Dr Lariviere, but their presence makes no difference. Emma has clearly taken a turn for the worse, and no treatment is possible. Bournisien is summoned and administers the last sacrament to Emma. A sudden joy is glimpsed in her eyes and her face grows serene. She is clearly breathing her last breath when a sudden commotion disturbs the solemn moment. The blind beggar's hoarse voice is heard singing his usual song:

'When the sun shines warm above, It turns a maiden's thoughts to love. All across the furrows brown See Nanette go bending down, Gathering up with careful hand The golden harvest from the land. The wind it blew so hard one day, Her little petticoat flew away.'

These words have a dramatic effect on Emma. She sits up like a "galvanized corpse" and laughs "a ghastly, frantic, desperate laugh" before another convulsion ends her life.

Notes

As Emma heads towards La Huchette, she is clearly trying her last resource. She knows the kind of affect she has on Rodolphe and hopes she can charm him into giving her the money needed to pay off her debt. Rodolphe's passion is aroused on seeing her, as reflected in the melting snow that hints of his awakening emotions. He is shocked, however, at her request for money and states his inability to help her. Emma is horrified as she listens to his excuses. Realizing that she has offered herself to him for nothing, she is furious and berates Rodolphe for accepting the gifts she had given him. She tells him of how his parting letter had torn her heart. In truth, his original betrayal had triggered her long illness and the start of her self-destruction.


Emma is in agony, realizing that she is totally unable to raise the money and that Rodolphe has never loved her. Flaubert wonderfully captures her emotions: "Only in her love did she suffer; through the thought of that she felt her soul escape from her as a wounded man in his last agony feels life flow out through his bleeding gashes." The image of death is etched in these lines, foreshadowing Emma's tortuous end. In desperation, Emma coerces Justin to let her into Homais' storeroom. She knows where the arsenic is stored and quickly eats a handful of the white powder. It is ironic that Justin, who loves Emma patiently through all her indiscretions, is the one who enables her to commit suicide, becoming the agent of her death. Because of his devotion to her, he cannot deny Emma; ironically, Emma feels nothing for Justin. Throughout the book, she has yearned for absolute love but fails to recognize it in Justin.

Emma remains a romantic until the very end. The manner in which she expects death to embrace her contrasts strongly with the way in which she actually dies. She imagines herself dying 'peacefully' in her sleep, but what really happens is ugly and grim as she grows violently ill. The only peaceful thing she experiences is taking the last sacrament from the priest. Her final kissing of the cross is passionate and reflective of her life: "Reaching forward like one in thirst, she glued her lips to the body of the Man-God and laid upon it with all her failing strength the most mighty kiss of love she had ever given." For Emma, love, even spiritual devotion, can only be expressed as earthly and sensual. As she clings to her faith in the end, the reader is reminded of the two previous religious phases of her life -- during her adolescence and after her recovery from Rodolphe's betrayal. It is sad to realize that at two key points in her life, she has sought spiritual love and deserted it for sensual passion. Ironically, the naïve and faithful Charles has stood by her throughout her indiscretions and now blindly hopes for her recovery.

In the throes of a mighty convulsion as she nears her end, Emma hears the song of the blind beggar. The mischievous irony of the words being sung is not lost on Emma. She has apparently heard the tune innumerable times on her way to and from Rouen; now it has a terrifying affect on her. The hideous image of the beggar reminds her of "eternal darkness" as she dies and symbolizes the ugliness of Emma's life.

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