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THE PLOT (Synopsis)
It's 1830 and fifteen-year-old Charles Bovary is about to enter a new school in the French city of Rouen. The son of a doting mother and a strict father, he has no idea what he wants to do with his life. Urged on by his mother, he eventually enters medical school, passes the exam on his second try, and establishes a practice in the small town of Tostes. His mother arranges a marriage for him with Heloise Dubuc, an ugly widow with a modest dowry.
Charles is a hard-working doctor who enjoys a good reputation among the people of Tostes. One night he's called to set the broken leg of Monsieur Rouault at a nearby farm. He meets Emma Rouault, the daughter of the farm owner, and is captivated by her. Heloise is jealous, but after she dies of a stroke, Charles asks Emma to marry him.
After a big wedding, Charles and Emma return to Tostes. Charles is infatuated with his young wife, who is desperate to experience the passionate love she has read about in romantic novels during her years as a convent student. She has an image of what an ideal marriage should be, but neither Charles nor her life in Tostes lives up to this expectation.
When Emma and Charles are invited to a ball at La Vaubyessard, the estate of a marquis, Emma experiences the kind of life she feels she was born for. This one night-when she dances with a Viscount and mingles with the rich-leaves a lasting impression on her and makes her even more restless with her life at Tostes. As her unhappiness increases, she grows ill. Charles, in consultation with another doctor, decides that a change of scenery might be good for her. By the time they are ready to move to the town of Yonville to start life anew, Emma discovers that she is pregnant.
Yonville isn't much different from Tostes. The only diversion for Emma is Leon Dupuis, a notary's clerk who shares her interest in art and literature.
When Emma gives birth to a daughter, Berthe, it's another disappointment since she was hoping for a boy. In order to compensate for the monotony of her life in Yonville, Emma borrows money from Lheureux, a dry-goods merchant, and treats herself to luxurious items that she feels she deserves.
As time passes, Emma becomes more miserable. Emma and Leon realize that they're in love, but neither is ready for an affair. Finally, Leon moves to Paris, leaving Emma even more unhappy than before.
Rodolphe Boulanger consults Charles over a minor ailment and is sexually attracted to Emma. Deciding that it would be fun to add her to his list of conquests, he makes plans to seduce her. He succeeds, and they become lovers. Every morning Emma rushes to Rodolphe's estate where they make love passionately. Some evenings, after Charles goes to sleep, they meet on a bench in the garden in front of Emma's house. Emma is satisfied for a while, but when Rodolphe begins to take her for granted, she turns back to Charles for satisfaction. Wishing he would do something to make her proud of him, she encourages Charles to perform an experimental operation on Hippolyte, the stable-boy. The operation turns out to be a disaster and another doctor is called in to amputate Hippolyte's leg.
Her husband's failure makes Emma despise him even more. It rekindles her love for Rodolphe whom she asks to take her away from Yonville. For Rodolphe, however, the novelty of the conquest has worn off and he ends the affair. Emma sinks into a depression and stays in bed for two months. When she recovers, Charles takes her to the opera in Rouen, where they happen to meet Leon. After the opera, Charles goes back to Yonville, but Emma stays an extra day and Leon seduces her.
Emma tries to cover up her affair with Leon by telling Charles that she's going to Rouen to take piano lessons. Once a week, she meets Leon in a hotel room. Meanwhile, her debts to Lheureux are mounting, and she's forced to borrow more money in order to repay him.
One day, Lheureux tells her that unless she pays him 8000 francs, all her property will be seized. Desperately, Emma attempts to raise the money, but no one will help her-not even Leon. Emma is slowly losing her mind and can see no solution but to take her own life. She persuades a young pharmacist's assistant who is secretly in love with her to give her a supply of arsenic. Emma swallows the arsenic, writes Charles a letter of explanation, and dies. Charles dies of a broken heart sometime later, and Berthe goes to live with an aunt who sends her to do menial work in a cotton mill.