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Homais and his children, accompanied by Justin, the Bovarys, and Leon, go for an outing one Sunday afternoon. It is the end of winter, and there is nothing interesting to observe. To pass the time, Emma surveys the men and finds Charles stupid in appearance and behavior; in contrast, she finds Leon attractive. That night, as Emma muses over the happenings of the day, she recollects past instances of Leon's behavior with her. She suddenly realizes that he is in love with her. She laments her own marital status, but at the same time, "her heart (is) filled with a new enchantment."
The draper, Monsieur Lheureux, pays Emma a visit. He offers to supply her anything she might want in accessories, linen, or fancy goods. While exhibiting his wares, Lheureux hints that he is also a moneylender and would be willing to make a loan to Emma if she should ever be in need of cash. His offer becomes significant later in the plot.
After Lheureux leaves, Leon arrives. He is clearly uneasy and does not know what to say to her. Emma, for her part, chooses to discourage him by playing the dutiful wife. She praises her husband repeatedly and plays the part of mother to the hilt. Leon is upset by Emma's strange behavior, but he still idolizes her. As time passes, Emma admits to herself that she loves Leon, but makes no attempt to tell the young man. Instead, she grows thin with worry over her feelings and often weeps over her state of despair. Charles is totally oblivious to her turmoil. For Emma, his faith in her is "a stupid insult." She blames him for all her frustrations and wonders if she could elope with Leon and start life anew.
One day while Emma is weeping in her room, Felicite, her maid, enters. She tells Emma of how marriage cured a girl she had known who was suffering from nerves and depression. Emma's response to Felicite is classic: "But with me . . . it (her unhappiness) didn't come on until I was married." At least sometimes Emma can be truthful with herself.
The seasons usually mirror Emma's state of mind. It is normally winter when she is undergoing a major depression. In this chapter, winter is also indicative of the coldness of her feelings for her husband. Emma, who has always been repulsed by Charles' commonness, now begins to hate him for his meekness. Flaubert states that "she would have liked Charles to hit her, that she might have just cause for hatred and revenge." Instead, Charles continues to idolize Emma and has no idea about her emotions towards him.
The chapter also throws Emma into a self-confrontation. She finally realizes that she loves Leon, which presents a classic dilemma for her; she has to choose between the security of marriage or the passion of love. Although in appearance she clings to her husband and child, inwardly, "she (is) all desire and rage and hatred . . . and she (seeks) solitude that she might revel in his (Leon's) image undisturbed." Emma is also frustrated that Leon is so passive about his emotions; she knows that he loves her and wishes that he would be more bold in expressing it.
Lheureux, the draper, is presented in this chapter as a sharp, but somewhat shady, businessman. He has cultivated the genteel manners common to fashionable circles in order to ingratiate himself to his clients. His name, when translated into English, is appropriate for a salesman, for it means 'the happy one.' When Lheureux calls on Emma, he graciously shows her his fabrics, but he also offers to lend her money if she should ever be in need. Flaubert is clearly foreshadowing that this moneylender will become part of Emma's life later in the plot.