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Every Thursday morning Emma makes the trip from Yonville to Rouen. After she has been cloistered in a small town all week, her arrival in the big city fills her with excitement. She meets Leon in a hotel room and they embrace passionately, telling each other how miserable they've been all week. Do Emma's feelings, at this point, seem genuine? Does her private world with Leon make her happy? Is her affair with Leon what she's been looking for all this time?
Emma and Leon's affair differs in many regards from Emma's affair with Rodolphe. With Leon, Emma seems to be playing the dominant role, or teacher, whereas with Rodolphe the roles were reversed. Emma introduces Leon to the pleasures of sensuality, just as Rodolphe had done with her. Some readers feel that Emma is teaching Leon everything she learned from Rodolphe. In what other ways are the two relationships different? In what ways are they similar?
Some nights, on her return trip to Yonville, Emma sees a blind old beggar roaming the countryside. As the carriage passes, she can hear his song: "The heat of the sun on a summer day / Warms a young girl in an amorous way." Why does this song affect Emma so intensely? Sometimes the beggar grabs on to the side of the cab and when the coachman realizes this, he strikes the beggar with his whip until the helpless old man falls into the mud at the side of the road.
The blind beggar symbolizes the depth of misery to which a person
can sink. The sound of his voice "descended into the depths of her
soul." Is it possible that Emma sees in the beggar a reflection of
herself? Emma will soon be a beggar herself. Having run up enormous debts
with Lheureux, she will be forced to beg for money to repay these debts.
Flaubert uses the blind old beggar to foreshadow Emma's upcoming disaster.
He is also a symbol of the moral and intellectual blindness of the main
characters to their own natures and to others' needs.
The days between visits to Leon grow more and more intolerable. One night, Charles informs Emma that Mademoiselle Lempereur-the piano teacher-says that she has never heard of Emma. Emma tries to conceal her deception by saying that the teacher probably forgot her name. It's an unlikely story, but Charles is ready to believe anything. Emma pretends to search frantically for the nonexistent receipts, and a few days later Charles "finds" the receipts-obviously forged by Emma-in one of his boots.
One day, leaving the hotel in Rouen with Leon, she meets Lheureux. The greedy merchant realizes that, if necessary, he can blackmail Emma by telling Charles about her affair with Leon. He uses this knowledge to get more money out of her. In a complicated transaction, he convinces her to give him a piece of property that her father-in-law had owned. He has her sign four new promissory notes [written promises to pay a specified sum of money at a stated time] and tells her that she can keep the money from the sale of the house. With this money she pays most of her old debts. The fourth note arrives when Charles-who knows nothing about any of these financial arrangements-is at home. She sits on his lap, caresses him, and tries to explain how the money was spent. Charles, not knowing what to think, writes his mother for advice. The old woman arrives and immediately begins to complain about Emma's extravagant tastes. An argument ensues between the two women, and for the first time in his life, Charles takes his wife's side. His mother, enraged, leaves, threatening never to return to her son's house.
Her triumphs at home make Emma even more reckless in her behavior. She no longer fears compromising herself and walks openly with Leon through the streets of Rouen. One night, when Emma decides not to return to Yonville, Charles takes a carriage to Rouen in the middle of the night and searches for her. They meet accidentally on a street near the piano teacher's house, and Emma lies to him again, saying that she'd been feeling ill and that Charles shouldn't worry every time she stays out late. Charles blindly accepts her explanation, and after this incident, Emma begins going to Rouen whenever she pleases.
Emma's life is rapidly disintegrating. Any control she had prior to her Rouen visits is now dwindling to nothing as her financial problems multiply and her marriage falls apart. Any vestiges of respect for the marital structure are now gone. She parades openly with Leon, maintains a hectic extramarital affair, and lies guiltlessly to her husband when questioned about her actions. The roller-coaster ride has begun, and it's only a matter of time before Emma completely destroys herself.