Madame Bovary

Author: Gustave Flaubert  | Date: 1856


The chemist’s visits: Evenings with Leon:

Dominoes: The birth of romance: Phrenology and

cactuses: Emma makes a present.

AS soon as the weather began to turn cold, Emma exchanged her bedroom for the sitting-room. It was a long room with a low ceiling, and on the chimney-piece there was a large piece of branching coral resting against the mirror. She used to pull her easy-chair close up to the window so that she could watch the villagers as they went by on the pavement.

Twice a day Leon passed along from his work to the Lion d’Or . Emma could tell his step a long way off. She leaned forward and listened, and the young man glided past the window-curtain, always dressed the same and always looking straight in front of him. But at dusk, when she had dropped her piece of unfinished embroidery on her lap and was sitting with her chin resting on her left hand, she would often start at the sudden apparition of this gliding shadow, and then she would get up and tell the girl to lay the dinner.

Monsieur Homais would often come in while they were eating. Turkish cap in hand, he would enter on tip-toe, so as not to disturb anyone, and always saying the same thing, ’Good-evening, everybody.’ Having taken his customary place at the table, between husband and wife, he asked the doctor about his patients, and the doctor consulted him about the sort of fees he ought to charge. Then they began to discuss the news in the paper. Homais, at this hour, would know it almost by heart and retail it in full, together with the editorial comments, recounting every single accident that had occurred in France or out of it. And when that subject was exhausted, he would immediately proceed to comment on the dishes he saw. Sometimes he would half rise from his chair and delicately point out a titbit to Madame, or, turning to the servant, give her some really sound advice about the making of stews and the hygienic values of the various kinds of seasoning. He expatiated on the subject of aromas, osmazomes, juices and gelatines with an eloquence that was positively dazzling. His head being more plentifully stocked with recipes than his shop was with jars, he was an authority on the making of jams, vinegars and cordials, and he was also thoroughly up to date in the various kinds of heating apparatus, knew how to keep cheese in good condition, and all about wine and its ailments.

At eight o’clock Justin would come for him to go over and shut up the shop. And Monsieur Homais would give him a knowing look, especially if Felicite were there, for he had noticed that his pupil was very fond of calling at the doctor’s.

’The young dog,’ said he, ’is beginning to feel his feet, and hang me if I don’t think he’s gone on your servant!’

But the young man had a graver fault, and one he had been told about, too. And that was, he was for ever listening. Sundays, for instance, there was no getting him out of the drawing-room. The children would fall asleep, sprawling about in the arm-chairs, and pulling the covers, which were a good deal too big, all out of shape, whereupon Madame would send for Justin to come and take them, and there he would stick.

There was not much of a crowd at the chemist’s parties as a rule. His busy tongue and revolutionary ideas had choked off the decent people one after another. But the clerk never failed to put in an appearance. As soon as he heard the door-bell, off he would rush to greet Madame Bovary, take her shawl and stow her overshoes- which she always wore when it was snowing- underneath the counter.

They would open the proceedings with a round or two of trente-et-un . Then Monsieur Homais would have a game of ecarte with Emma. Leon would stand behind her and tell her what to play, noting how the teeth of her comb bit into her chignon. Every time she threw a card on the table, the movement would pull up her dress on the right side. Beneath her upgathered hair a brownish hue descended her back and, growing gradually paler, was finally lost in the shadows.

Her gown would then fall on both sides of the chair, puffing out, full of folds and spreading out on the carpet. When Leon felt the sole of his boot on it, he stepped aside as though he had trodden on a living thing.

When they were through with the card-playing, the apothecary and the doctor would settle down to a game of dominoes and Emma, changing her place, would sit with her elbow on the table, turning over the pages of an illustrated paper. She had brought her fashion paper with her. Leon sat down beside her, and they looked at the pictures together, waiting for each other at the bottom of the page. Sometimes she would ask him to say some poetry. Leon would recite in lingering tones, letting his voice die softly away when he came to the love passages. But the rattle of the dominoes put him out. Monsieur Homais was a first-rate player. He could give Charles a double-six and beat him. Then, when they had finished their three hundred, they would stretch themselves out in front of the fire and soon drop off to sleep. The fire was burning low, the tea-urn empty, and Leon still read on. Emma listened, mechanically twisting round the lampshade, with its pictures of pierrots in carriages and tight-rope dancers holding their balancing poles. And then Leon would come to a stop, and with a sweep of his hand draw attention to his sleeping audience. And they would lower their voices, and the conversation which followed seemed the sweeter because no one overheard it.

And so a kind of association was established between them, a continual interchange of books and romances. Monsieur Bovary was not a jealous man. It didn’t strike him as in any way peculiar.

On his birthday, he had a fine phrenological bust given to him. It was marked all over with figures right down to the thorax, and painted blue. It was a little attention from the clerk. He paid him plenty more besides, and even did his shopping for him in Rouen. And some new novel or other having made cactuses all the rage, Leon bought one for Madame, and brought it home on his knees in the Hirondelle , pricking his fingers on the hard, sharp spikes.

She had a board with a rail in front of it fixed up outside her window to hold her flower-pots. The clerk, too, had his little hanging garden. They could look across and see each other at their respective windows attending to their flowers.

Among the windows in the village there was one that was still more persistently occupied. Of a Sunday, from morning till night, and every afternoon, if the light was good, you could see the profile of Monsieur Binet as he sat at his attic window, bending over his lathe, whose monotonous hum was audible as far as the Lion d’Or .

One night Leon went home and found a mat in his room, a mat worked in wool and velvet with sprays of leaves on a pale ground. He called for Madame Homais to come and see it, and Monsieur Homais, Justin, the children and the cook. He told his employer about it. Everyone wanted to know about this mat. Why should the doctor’s wife make presents to the clerk? Queer! She must be his mistress!

He certainly gave that impression, he was so full of her charms and her wit. One day Binet, who had had more than enough of it, broke out with a brutal,

’What’s all that matter to me? I’ve got nothing to do with her.’

He cudgelled his brains to think of the best way of declaring himself. He was for ever torn between fear of offending her and shame at his own irresolution, and he wept with desire and despondency. Then suddenly he would make up his mind to act and to act quickly. He wrote letters- and tore them up; fixed a day for the deed- and put it off. Sometimes he started out determined to dare all. But all his courage melted when he found himself face to face with Emma; and when Charles, appearing on the scene, invited him to get up into the trap and drive with him to see some patient or other in the district, he at once accepted and, with a bow to Madame, took his departure. Was not her husband a kind of reflection of herself?

So far as Emma was concerned she did not ask herself whether she was in love. Love, she thought, was something that must come suddenly, with a great display of thunder and lightning, descending on one’s life like a tempest from above, turning it topsy-turvy, whirling away one’s resolutions like leaves and bearing one onward, heart and soul, towards the abyss. She never bethought herself how on the terrace of a house the rain forms itself into little lakes when the gutters are choked, and she was going on quite unaware of her peril, when all of a sudden she discovered- a crack in the wall!


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Chicago: Gustave Flaubert, "13," Madame Bovary, trans. J. Lewis May Original Sources, accessed March 31, 2023,

MLA: Flaubert, Gustave. "13." Madame Bovary, translted by J. Lewis May, Original Sources. 31 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Flaubert, G, '13' in Madame Bovary, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 31 March 2023, from