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As she approaches Rodolphe's estate, Emma wonders what she'll say when she sees her former lover. The familiar landscape brings back memories of their affair, but how different things are now! Is it possible that Rodolphe will have changed as well?
When she first sees him, he's seated in front of the fire, smoking his pipe. He leaps up, obviously surprised to see her, and they discuss the past while Emma weeps. Rodolphe kneels at her feet and says he still loves her, but when she asks for 3,000 francs, he backs away and explains that he doesn't have it.
Rodolphe's rejection is the crushing blow. His home is filled with expensive objects-many of which she gave him-that could be converted into cash. She tries to make Rodolphe feel guilty, but all he says in response to her tirade is that he doesn't have the money. With this, Emma returns to Yonville in a daze.
Leon and Rodolphe's unwillingness to help Emma gives her some insight
into their selfishness. She feels betrayed, especially by Rodolphe, and
this gives her the impetus to kill herself. As she leaves Rodolphe's house,
however, she's not thinking about money. "She was now," Flaubert
tells you, "suffering only through her love." On the basis of
what you know about Rodolphe, do you find his reaction surprising? Emma
can't understand how she could love others so much and receive so little
in return. Some readers feel that circumstances beyond her control have
brought her to the brink of suicide. Others argue that she is solely responsible
for her circumstances and refuses to admit her part in creating them.
Back in Yonville, Emma stops in front of the pharmacy, sees Justin, and orders him to give her the key to the upstairs laboratory where Homais keeps his special supply of chemicals. Because Justin is secretly in love with Emma, he can't refuse her. She climbs the steps to the laboratory, finds the bottle of arsenic, and before Justin can do anything, she swallows the poison. Justin, looking on, becomes frantic, but Emma warns him not to tell anyone what she's doing. She returns home, "feeling what was almost the serenity of a duty well done."
The young Justin's love for Emma parallels Flaubert's infatuation with the older Elisa Schlesinger (see the Author and His Times section). In his pure and truly felt love, perhaps Justin, more than anyone, coincides with Emma's image of the ideal lover. Flaubert ironically has Justin show Emma where the arsenic is located, and then has him watch as she swallows it. The boy with the most to offer, stands by helplessly.
Charles has learned that his property is going to be auctioned. He has searched everywhere for Emma, and on returning to the house finds her in the bedroom, writing a letter that she instructs him not to read until the next day. The arsenic has not yet taken effect and Emma feels only a bitter taste in her mouth. As she drinks a glass of water and suddenly begins choking, Charles notices a white substance on the side of the basin and begs her to tell him what she's eaten. When she refuses, he rushes to her writing desk, reads the letter, and realizes that Emma has poisoned herself.
Grief-stricken, Charles summons Doctors Canivet and Lariviere. Kneeling at the foot of her bed, he asks, "Weren't you happy? Is it my fault? I did everything I could!" Emma passes her hand through Charles' hair and reassures him that nothing was his fault. What is your reaction to this gesture of tenderness on Emma's part? Does she have genuine fondness-or even love-for Charles? Or does she finally recognize her own responsibility?
Emma asks to see Berthe one last time. After the little girl is brought to her and then taken away, Emma's suffering becomes more intense and she begins vomiting blood. Canivet and Lariviere arrive, but nothing can save her. As Father Bournisien administers the last rites, the blind beggar appears at the window, singing his song: "The wind was blowing hard that day / And Nanette's petticoat flew away." Emma begins laughing horribly, and as her body trembles one last time, she dies.
NOTE: THE DEATHBED SCENE
Emma's death-an ugly, painful ordeal-concludes the long train of events that have progressively worn her down. Instead of dying the sensual, beautiful death of the romantic heroine, Emma shakes violently while the beggar, a symbol of death, lurks at her window. Notice this final use of the window to express the state of Emma's soul. When she was searching for love, the window was open; when she was making love inside a room, the window was closed. On her deathbed, Emma can see through the window to a world beyond-to the death represented by the old beggar, the final escape.
Notice the parallel between the bungled clubfoot operation and Emma's messy suicide. Both are filled with the most graphic medical details and serve as reminders of the ugly facts of life and death, facts that Emma never could face.
Even as she is on the verge of death, she recalls her first religious (sexual) experiences and summons all her waning strength to kiss passionately the figure of Christ on the crucifix as she receives the last rites. She seems content, as though there is still time for another dream of love. The beggar reminds her of terrifying reality one last time before she dies. Blind to the end, Emma never stops dreaming.