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Shortly after Emma's death, Lheureux shows up asking for money. Charles refuses to sell any of his wife's clothing and writes letters to his patients asking them for money, but he doesn't realize that they've already paid Emma. Felicite, Emma's maid, begins to dress in Emma's clothing, and Charles often mistakes her for his wife. Then the word arrives that Leon is getting married.
Going through Emma's things, Charles discovers the letter from Rodolphe, breaking off their affair. Blinded by his grief, Charles refuses to believe that Emma and Rodolphe had ever been lovers. He buys patent-leather boots and begins using perfumed mustache-wax, thinking that this would please his dead wife. If only he had acted this way when she was alive! Gradually he sells the furniture and empties all the rooms in the house except for Emma's bedroom, where he spends days playing with Berthe and repairing her toys. No one visits them. Justin has gone to work at a grocery in Rouen. The blind beggar, who had arrived in Yonville to try a cure prescribed by Homais, spreads the word that the pharmacist is a quack. Homais puts a notice in the newspaper complaining about the blind beggar, and has him committed for life to an asylum.
Looking through Emma's rosewood desk, Charles finally stumbles upon the letters from Leon and Rodolphe. Now there can be no doubt in his mind that Emma was having affairs with them. The discovery leaves him despondent, so he shuts himself up in his house, and people in town gossip that he's drinking heavily.
At the market, where Charles has gone to sell his horse, he meets Rodolphe. They go for a drink together and Charles, staring at the face of the man who'd been his wife's lover, realizes that he "would like to be that man." What do you think he means by this? How would you have reacted in a similar situation? Rodolphe attempts to steer the conversation to trivial subjects but notices that Charles is becoming more and more agitated. For a moment, it seems that Charles will finally vent his rage, but all he tells Rodolphe is that he doesn't hold what Rodolphe did against him. "Only fate is to blame," he tells Rodolphe, who considers him a weakling for being so passive.
Reread Rodolphe's letter to Emma (Part Two, Chapter 13) where he writes "Only fate is to blame"- the exact words Charles uses when he and Rodolphe confront one another-and recall that Charles has just read Rodolphe's letter. Some readers feel that repeating the phrase to his rival is a sign of Charles' dullness and lack of cleverness. Yet others conclude that Charles sincerely feels that fate is the reason for Emma's tragic death. Other readers believe that fate is just an excuse to avoid the truth, and that Charles, to the very end, refuses to blame Emma for their ruin.
The day after meeting Rodolphe, Charles sits broken-hearted on the bench in the garden where Emma and her lovers used to meet. In the evening, when Berthe comes to look for him, she finds him with his eyes closed and a lock of black hair in his hands. She thinks that he's playing, but when she prods him, he falls to the ground, dead. His death, ironically, is right out of a Romantic novel and no doubt would have pleased Emma. Could it be that the only character in Madame Bovary who really knows what true love is and, in fact, has died for love, is Charles? In going back over the novel, are there any other indications that Charles has been misrepresented by Emma and Flaubert?
Berthe is sent to live with an aunt, who puts her to work in a cotton mill. Three different doctors, Flaubert tells you, attempt to practice in Yonville, but Homais-who has finally been awarded the decoration of the national Legion of Honor-manages to alienate them all.
NOTE: THE CONCLUSION
Flaubert brings everything to a conclusion with the death of Emma. Charles discovers the truth of his wife's affairs with Rodolphe and Leon; the Bovary possessions are sold to pay off debts; Charles and his mother have a final falling-out; Berthe is victimized by the loss of her mother, and almost immediately, the death of her father. Even Homais manages to put his final stamp of authority on the town of Yonville. The novel does not end on an optimistic note. It is a bleak finale to a bleak story. Although the author and publishers were prosecuted for anti-religious, anti-moral attitudes, would you agree that the story has a moral? If so, what is it?