Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | MonkeyNotes
Rodolphe returns home and composes a letter to Emma. Before doing so, he takes out all her old souvenirs and rereads her letters. While he's going through this array of objects and letters, he finds mementos from other mistresses and is amused to think of all the women who have loved him.
Do you have the feeling he's written similar letters to other women? Writing this type of "Goodbye" letter is for him an inevitable part of the game between men and women. He tells Emma that at some point they would have grown tired of each other and that she would have felt remorse for having left her husband. "Forget me," he advises, "only fate is to blame."
Flaubert employs the notion of fate several times in the book. Later on, Charles finds the letter to Emma, and after her death, when he meets Rodolphe face to face, he repeats this very statement about fate back to him. In these two instances, it's the simplest way of explaining things. Do you think that Emma's downfall is inevitable given her basic nature? Is Flaubert suggesting that people cannot change or only Emma?
Rodolphe continues his letter and ends by saying that he's going to leave the country to avoid the temptation of seeing her again. He lets a drop of water spill on the page to blot the ink and give the impression of tears. Then, satisfied that he's done his job properly, he smokes his pipe and goes to bed.
The next day, Emma receives the letter and reads it at the window looking out over the town. For a moment, as her heart races, she thinks of leaping to the pavement below, but her thoughts of suicide are interrupted by Charles' voice, calling her to come eat.
As Emma contemplates suicide, she hears the droning sound of Binet's lathe, symbolizing the boredom and emptiness of the life she now faces. Flaubert makes skillful use of this motif.
At dinner, Charles mentions that he heard news that Rodolphe was taking a trip. At the sound of her lover's name, Emma begins choking. Suddenly, the carriage carrying Rodolphe out of town passes the house, and Emma-recognizing him in the glow of the lantern-cries out and collapses. Homais brings some vinegar from the pharmacy in an attempt to revive her but she faints again. "The letter! Where is it?!" she shrieks, thinking that her husband is going to find Rodolphe's message. But both Charles and Homais think she's delirious, and in fact they're right. Her illness following Rodolphe's departure was set up earlier by her illness following the ball at La Vaubyessard. Each expectation of new heights brings Emma crashing down to reality as her expectations are crushed. Be prepared for a similar crash to reality in Part Three.
Charles abandons his practice to stay at his wife's bedside. Does his devotion to Emma at this point make him seem more sympathetic in your eyes? Her illness lasts forty-three days, during which she neither speaks nor eats. Finally, she has enough strength to leave her bed and take a walk in the garden, but when she sees the bench where she and Rodolphe made love, she collapses once again. This second phase of her illness is even more complicated than the first, and her fits of nausea make Charles wonder whether she has cancer. On top of all this, he now has financial troubles as well.
From this point on, Emma will think about suicide as the only certain escape from the miseries of life. The idea of suicide as an alternative to a failed love affair is another typical convention of some Romantic literature, which had been inspired by an early work of the German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther. In this work, and its many imitations, suicide is considered preferable to life without the ideal love. The introduction of suicide as a way out also foreshadows Emma's final escape.