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Free Study Guide-Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert-Free Book Notes
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Charles is numbed by grief over the loss of his wife and keeps constant watch over her body as arrangements are made. The sight of her lifeless form makes him wonder if "there were infinite masses, of enormous weight, pressing down upon her." As he makes lavish plans for Emma's funeral, Bournisien and Homais unsuccessfully try to dissuade him from spending so much money. When his mother arrives, she tries to talk him out of spending so freely, but Charles is adamant. Rouault, Emma's father, is summoned and faints on hearing of his daughter's death. The funeral is a solemn affair.

Charles and his mother talk about old times before retiring to bed. Charles, of course, thinks of Emma and cannot sleep. Justin is also away, weeping on Emma's grave, stricken with "the burden of a measureless sorrow that was tenderer than the moon and deeper than night." By contrast, Rodolphe and Leon sleep peacefully through the night.

Charles does not find it easy to cope. Berthe has been sent to the nurse during Emma's funeral. When she returns home, Charles finds her gaiety difficult to tolerate. He also cannot bear to sell Emma's possessions in spite of the fact that the debts keep mounting. There are other troubles, too. Felicite, Emma's maid, runs away with her lover and takes along a sizable portion of Emma's wardrobe.

Charles still has no idea about Emma's unfaithfulness. When he learns that Leon is engaged, Charles sends a letter of congratulations and states how happy Emma would have been for him. He also finds Rodolphe's farewell letter to Emma and suspects nothing more than an innocent relationship between the two. He tells himself that Emma had a powerful effect on men, and that "no one... could have helped adoring her." To keep Emma's image alive, Charles adopts her "preferences and ideas" and leaves Emma's room exactly the way it had always been. He and Berthe lead a lonely existence amongst her presence.

Charles continues to struggle. He tries to put religion in his life and visits the church regularly for a week, but then stops. He does not maintain good relations with his mother. His debts continue to increase. He is cut off from relationships in town, for Justin has run off to Rouen, and Homais no longer wishes to associate with him. The only attachment Charles maintains is with his daughter, Berthe.

One day, Charles opens a secret drawer in Emma's desk and discovers Leon's and Rodolphe's love letters to Emma, which leaves him distraught and frantic. As a result, he feels more dejected than ever and withdraws further into himself. When he meets Rodolphe at the market, Charles goes to the tavern with him for a drink. He tells Rodolphe that he knows of his affair with Emma and is not angry with him, saying that everything happened because of "fate." Rodolphe finds Charles' attitude both "comic" and "abject."

The following day, Berthe finds Charles dead in the garden. His possessions are sold off, and Berthe is sent to live with her grandmother. The old lady soon dies, and the little girl is taken in by an aunt. Eventually, the child has to work in a cotton mill to earn her living. Amidst all this squalor and sorrow, Homais' success story stands out. He is respected by the public and officially recognized by the Legion of Honor.


"The coming of death always induces a sort of stupefaction, so hard is it to realize this advent of nothingness and to bring oneself to believe in it." This statement fully captures Charles' reaction to Emma's death. He goes into a state of shock and prepares an elaborate funeral. His mother comes to console her son and hopes to re-establish her former relations with him now that Emma is gone. Mr. Roualt, Emma's father, also comes and makes a pathetic appearance. So great is his grief that he cannot bring himself to look at his granddaughter. The reader is drawn to sympathize with this old man.

For her burial, Emma is dressed in her white satin wedding gown, a symbol of purity. This is supremely ironic, for it is in sharp contrast to her corrupt and degenerate life-style. Another example of irony is the camaraderie between Homais and Bournisien. This is observed during the vigil they maintain by Emma's bedside. Neither is really concerned about her death or her family's fate. Both indulge in their own petty differences, "neither listening to the other." Also ironic is the mention of Emma's ex-lovers: they sleep while those who really loved her grieve. Justin's youthful sorrow also captures the reader's attention. But while Justin is giving vent to his private sorrow at Emma's grave, the gravedigger, Lestiboudois, thinks of him as a petty thief.

The faithful Charles suffers greatly after Emma's death. Financially, he is in ruins. Mentally, too, he is a broken man, especially after finding Rodolphe's and Leon's love letters to Emma. He withdraws from social contact because of his profound dejection. His daughter, Berthe, is his only companion. It is interesting to note how people shun these two after Emma's death; Homais' absence is particularly noticeable.

Charles' chance meeting with Rodolphe demonstrates the resignation with which he faces life. He is filled with a "somber fury" against Rodolphe, but this lasts only a moment. His look of "dismal lifelessness" soon returns. Rodolphe finds his fatalistic attitude "comic" and "a bit abject." He is in no way affected by the Bovarys' tragedy. The meeting with Charles confirms the callous indifference of this arrogant, young bachelor.

With Charles' death, the property is quickly sold off by the creditors. The image one gets is of vultures feasting on carrion. Berthe, now orphaned, is finally placed with an aunt who "sends her to earn her living in a cotton-mill." Flaubert simply presents the reader with a report of her circumtances, but does not take sides. This is realism at its best.

Despite the ironic undertones throughout the book, Flaubert's descriptions of small town happenings are as fresh as life. It is no wonder that Madame Bovary is considered one of the best examples of the realistic literature ever to be written.

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