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THE CHARACTERS (continued)
Leon, a law clerk in a notary's office, meets Emma on her first night in Yonville. He is certainly physically superior to Charles, with ideas that are somewhat fresher. Drawn together by their common interest in music, art, and fashion, he and Emma fall in love. Though Leon is too passive and inexperienced to seduce her physically-and Emma isn't ready for an affair-he does seduce her intellectually and lays the groundwork for their future involvement.
Three years later, when they meet again at the Rouen opera house, Leon has gained experience with the world and women. Acting like most young men of his time, Leon succumbs to Emma, and they begin to meet once a week in a hotel room at Rouen.
Soon after their affair begins, however, Leon seems overpowered by Emma. It's as if their roles have been reversed, with Leon becoming Emma's mistress. Ultimately, she is too much for him. Besides, having an affair with a married woman conflicts with his essentially middle-class values.
If there are two Leons-the naive youth in Yonville and the sophisticate in Rouen-do you think they are essentially the same or different? Do you agree with Emma's final judgment of him as being "incapable of heroism, weak, banal, softer than a woman, and also stingy"?
Rodolphe, Emma's first real lover, is a cold seducer with no conscience. He has successfully used the same seductive approach dozens of times, and Emma falls for it no less than his previous conquests. Rodolphe is to Emma's love life what Lheureux is to her financial affairs. He is a vulture who preys on her weakness and exploits her to his own advantage.
To his credit, Rodolphe occasionally seems like the only character who understands Emma's state of mind. Unlike Leon, he's had extensive experience with women and quickly assesses Emma as being bored with her life. He begins plotting her seduction from the moment he sees her and, like a hunter, will chase Emma until he has no further use for her. For Rodolphe-who is dashing and wealthy, but not particularly talented-the conquest means everything. In this way, he is something of a Don Juan figure who enjoys the seductive process more than the end result. He even keeps a box of mementos from old lovers, to which he adds Emma's letters when their affair is over.
Not long after the affair begins, Rodolphe wonders how he'll escape from it. True to the spirit of Don Juan, his treatment of Emma proves to be inhuman-as inhuman as Emma's treatment of Charles. Emma's blindness to Rodolphe's nature is characteristic of her devotion to dreams at the expense of reality.
The Yonville pharmacist (apothecary) loves to hear the sound of his own voice and will talk, with assumed authority, about almost any subject. Though merely a pharmacist, he holds court like a master physician for people who come from all over to benefit from his medical "expertise." He is an immensely powerful and prosperous figure in Yonville who, though not a physician, has more patients than any doctor in the area. While busying himself with everything and intruding in every imaginable matter, Homais considers himself the resident intellectual of Yonvilleand in this respect Flaubert paints him as a fool. His conversation, though forceful and often stylish, is filled with commonplace cliches and lies. He says whatever is necessary to portray Yonville in a good light or to convince an audience that his opinion is correct.
Homais represents Flaubert's attack on the new middle-class man, the rising bourgeois who has true faith only in materialistic pursuits, which he covers with the progressive-sounding jargon of scientific ideas. It's he who recklessly encourages Charles to perform the clubfoot operation, hoping that it will bring publicity and money to Yonville-and to himself. Yet he's too frightened to witness or help with the surgery. When the operation proves to be a failure, Homais cowardly refuses to take responsibility for suggesting it.
The turning point in Homais' career is his campaign to have the blind beggar removed from the Yonville-Rouen road. Ironically, Homais' success at having the beggar sent to an asylum is Flaubert's way of ridiculing the pharmacist's smug self-importance. What's more, Homais' success in receiving the prestigious national decoration of the Legion of Honor indicates Flaubert's pessimistic attitude about the direction in which his society was headed. You may disagree with Flaubert's position, however, especially if you see Homais as a vital force in helping society move forward. After all, progress depends on money and scientific discoveries. What is your assessment of the pharmacist?
The dry-goods (household items) merchant and money lender of Yonville is as much a seducer as either Rodolphe or Leon. He lies to Emma and takes advantage of her inexperience with financial matters by enticing her with luxurious items. In Lheureux, Flaubert has created a character who reveals middle-class society in all its vulgarity.
By the time he enters the novel, you realize that surface impressions are not reliable. A cruel monster lurks beneath Lheureux's gentle facade. Not only does he consciously get Emma over her head in debt, but he also attempts to come between Emma and Charles by encouraging Emma to have the power of attorney over Charles' financial affairs. When he sees Leon and Emma together, he uses this information to blackmail her. And when Emma comes to see him one last time, hoping that he'll do something to help her out of her financial difficulties, he slams the door in her face. He's used her, milked her dry, and is completely unconcerned about her fall.