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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Madame Bovary opens with a description of the student life of Charles Bovary. With diligent application, he becomes a doctor and begins his practice in Tostes, a rural town. He marries a supposedly rich widow, who dies soon after. A year later, he marries Emma Rouault, the daughter of one of his clients. She is young and pretty, and Charles is thoroughly enamored with her. After a few weeks of marriage, Emma begins to tire of the union. She finds Charles too dull to understand her passionate romantic yearnings. The high point of her early married life is the ball she attends at La Vaubyessard. Memories of the Viscount she meets at the party remain with her for a long time. Due to her failing health, brought on by a severe mental depression, Emma, with her husband, moves to Yonville, France, another small town, near Rouen. A daughter is born to them there.
Emma's romantic desires grow during her acquaintance with a young clerk, Leon. The two share many interests, but their relationship does not bloom, and Leon leaves for Paris to study law and improve his job prospects. After his departure, Emma enters a major phase of depression and becomes very irritable. Monsieur Rodolphe Boulanger walks into her life at this stage. He convinces Emma to have an adulterous relationship with him. For a while, passions run high, and neither can have enough of the other. With the passage of time, however, Emma's romantic sentimentalism begins to irk Rodolphe.
When Emma expresses the desire to run away with him, he decides to terminate the affair. The effect on Emma is disastrous. She cannot withstand the shock and is bed- ridden for months. After her recovery, she becomes religious, but only for a while. A visit to Rouen re-acquaints her with Leon, and their dormant passions are roused. Emboldened by the affair with Rodolphe, she plunges into a tumultuous relationship with Leon.
Unmindful of the consequences, Emma liberally borrows money from the local moneylender, Lheureux. She satisfies her every whim concerning furniture, fashion, and love. Experienced in the art of love-making, she begins to dominate Leon, who comes to resent her. When this affair fails, Emma becomes frustrated. Furthermore, her financial affairs are in shambles. She begins to receive notices on the amounts she has borrowed and not repaid.
Eventually, Emma receives the final blow in the form of a royal order demanding payment of her debts within twenty-four hours. Fear grips her, as she has not told her husband of her secret borrowings. She tries several sources in order to raise the money, but all fail her. Even Leon is unconcerned about her fate. Cornered in this manner, Emma chances upon Justin, the pharmacist's helper. Because of an incident she had observed earlier in the pharmacy, she knows where the arsenic is kept. With no financial aid forthcoming, she coerces Justin into parting with the key to the storeroom, where she swallows a fistful of arsenic.
Emma's death is lengthy and torturous. Her death only temporarily stalls the total financial ruin of Charles. Soon after Emma dies, creditors crowd in. Charles cannot pay these debts. He becomes bankrupt and eventually withdraws from social life. One night he discovers proof of his wife's infidelity, but he is not angry. He spends time with his daughter, whom he loves. It is she who finds him dead in the garden one day. The child, now orphaned by the tragic deaths of her parents, is sent to live with a poor aunt.