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CHAPTER 9

Now that Emma has tasted of her dreamworld, she finds Tostes unbearable. She has fantasies of opulent parties attended by noblemen and aristocrats, and in the process she becomes even more critical of Charles. Having never been to Paris, Emma daydreams about the Viscount and about the excitement of the capital, where everyone is surely in love. She devours travel books and fashion magazines, along with the anti-middle-class novels of Honore de Balzac and the Romantic works of George Sand, the pseudonym of the famous, flamboyant, and free-living woman writer of the early nineteenth century.

Charles, whose limited vision keeps him from understanding Emma's needs, seems unaware of her state of mind. He subscribes to a medical journal in an effort to keep up with his field. But whenever he begins to read after dinner, he falls asleep within five minutes. Emma stares at him critically from across the room, wishing she'd married someone more exceptional. Ironically, however, the people of Tostes like his attentive bedside manner. Could it be that he has many positive features which neither Emma nor Flaubert want to acknowledge? Would these features (related to his plodding sense of professional duty and perhaps to his basic kindness) be of interest to someone like Emma? One of the questions that Madame Bovary brings up in a general way is the bleak picture of human nature that the characters represent. By making Charles fairly decent but horribly mediocre and dull, is Flaubert giving decency a chance?

Emma waits anxiously for a change in her life, but nothing happens. As her unhappiness increases, she stops playing the piano and abandons her sketchbooks and sewing. Even her novels leave her cold. She begins to neglect her household duties and finally gets sick. Charles, not being a particularly good judge of nonphysical illness, assumes that something about the town of Tostes is causing Emma's illness, so he takes her to one of his old medical professors, who recommends a change of scenery.


NOTE: THE ROMANTIC "ILLNESS"

Flaubert explores Emma's state of mind in great detail. This is an important chapter, coming directly after the ball at La Vaubyessard and at the close of Part One. Flaubert demonstrates the influence of emotions on physical health and describes Emma's life almost completely in terms of her dreams and expectations. One of Flaubert's intentions is to depict the extremes of Romanticism and to show how adherence to the ideals of romantic heroines can lead to despair. You might empathize easily with Emma in her boring, rural surroundings. Perhaps you can also identify with her increasing dependence on the world of dreams. The problem with Emma is that her dreams do not nourish happiness; they merely provoke and prolong her unhappiness. Their realization, however, may not be any better than their frustration. It may be that their unattainability is the very cause of their potency.

Charles doesn't want to leave Tostes, but he'll do anything for the sake of Emma's health. He learns that the town of Yonville-l'Abbaye needs a doctor, so he decides to move. What does this self-sacrifice tell you about Charles' character? Do you see it as a weakness or a strength?

While preparing for the move, Emma pricks her finger on her bridal bouquet. Disgusted, she throws it into the fire and watches it burn. By the time they're ready to leave Tostes and start a new life, Emma discovers that she's pregnant.

NOTE: THE SYMBOLIC BOUQUET

The description of the burning bouquet, with its "burnt" berries and "shriveled" paper "black butterflies," symbolizes everything that's wrong with Emma's life. It is a physical reminder of her union with Charles Bovary. Just as its flowers have withered and died, so too have Emma's hopes of realizing her dreams in married life with a country doctor. Her pregnancy seems, at this low point in Emma's life, just another unpleasant reminder of her ties to the reality of marriage. The departure for a new town, Yonville-l'Abbaye, and the imminence of a new life don't seem to hold much attraction for Emma. They are not the stuff of which her kind of dreams are made.

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