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What has Leon been doing for the last three years? Though he's still a shy person, his experience with the loose women of Paris has given him more confidence. (Remember the way the noblemen at La Vaubyessard in Part One were said to have a practiced hand at controlling horses and loose women.) In this regard, he seems like a miniature version of Rodolphe. His first thought, after seeing Emma again, is that he's going to do everything in his power to seduce her.
The day after the opera, Leon goes to the inn where the Bovarys are staying and learns that Charles has returned to Yonville. Emma tries to impress upon Leon that she's become philosophical since they last saw each other. She goes on at length about "the wretchedness of earthly affections and the isolation in which the heart must remain forever," but makes no mention of Rodolphe, the cause of her illness. Leon tells her how bored he's been, how he'd thought of her often when he was in Paris, and how he'd even written her letters that he never mailed.
Compare the conversation between Leon and Emma with the one between
Rodolphe and Emma at the agricultural show. Has Emma learned to judge
the sincerity of her suitors? Do you know someone like Emma who is anxious
to believe everything people say?
Leon talks of how he sometimes wishes he were dead and that one night he wrote out a will, asking to be buried in the bedspread that Emma had made for him. Like Rodolphe, Leon is taking advantage of Emma's weaknesses-her unhappiness, frustration, and longing for love. Though Leon is more of a romantic than Rodolphe-and in this respect more evenly matched with Emma-his main purpose is still to make a conquest.
As night falls, they sit in Emma's hotel room, reminiscing about the past. Leon attempts to embrace her but she withdraws. Leon insists that they, see one another again before she leaves Rouen and suggests that they meet at eleven the next morning in the Cathedral. After he leaves, Emma composes a letter to him, canceling their appointment, but realizes that she doesn't know his address. She decides that she'll give him the letter in person.
Once again, Emma is involved wholeheartedly in the drama and intrigue of a love affair. Writing secret letters in an attempt to deny her feelings and then changing her mind at the last minute-excites her. Some readers feel that Emma's problems do not stem from Charles, but rather from the life without turmoil that he represents. For Emma, the only way she can be fully alive is to be in a state of inner conflict.
The next morning, Leon arrives at the church. When Emma sees him, she thrusts the letter into his hand and tells him to read it-but at the same moment, she withdraws the letter and rushes into the chapel to pray. Finally Leon takes Emma's arm and hurries her outside.
NOTE: FLAUBERT'S USE OF DESCRIPTION
When writing Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to describe objects as reflections of the way his characters felt. The description of the Cathedral as a "gigantic boudoir" reflects Emma's attitudes toward religion. You may recall other instances in the book where Flaubert links religion and sexuality. The description of the frenzied cab ride through Rouen that follows the couple's departure from the Cathedral reveals their uncontrolled love-making without once peeking inside the cab, which was "sealed tighter than a tomb and tossing like a ship." In most novels, you learn something about the characters from what they say, but in Madame Bovary there is comparatively little dialogue, thanks to Flaubert's indirect style. Some think that the key to the book-and to the hearts and minds of the characters-lies in the descriptive passages.
Leon calls a cab. He stifles Emma's protests by saying that there's nothing improper about what they're doing. Everyone in Paris does it all the time. Leon tells the driver to keep moving, and the cab sets out on a tour of Rouen, blinds drawn. In the middle of the day, as the carriage passes through the countryside, Emma's hand reaches out of the window and she tosses the pieces of her letter to Leon (which look like "white butterflies") into the wind. Do you remember the "black butterflies" of charred paper flower petals that floated from Emma's burning wedding bouquet? What do you think is the connection between the two images? What relation do they have to Emma's marriage?
When the cab finally stops, a woman with a black veil walks away from it without looking back. What do you suppose Emma is feeling at this moment? Has she sealed her fate like the "sealed" cab?