Madame Bovary

Author: Gustave Flaubert  | Date: 1856


Comparisons: Two wooden legs:

How Emma paid Lheureux’s bill: Presents for Rodolphe:

The Mother-in-law: ’Take me away!’:

The Husband’s dreams: The Wife’s

dreams: Until tomorrow.

AND so love began for them anew. Often, in the middle of the day, Emma would take up a pen and write to him. Then she would beckon across to Justin, who would off with his apron in an instant and fly away with the letter to la Huchette. And Rodolphe would come. She wanted to tell him that life was a burden to her, that she couldn’t endure her husband and that things were unbearable.

’But what can I do?’ he exclaimed one day, losing patience.

’Ah! if you only would...’

She was sitting on the floor between his knees, her hair down, staring into vacancy.

’Would what?’ said Rodolphe.

’We might go away and live somewhere else... anywhere...’

’Really, you must be crazy,’ he said, with a laugh. ’How could we?’

She harked back to the subject. He pretended not to understand, and talked of something else.

What he couldn’t grasp was why there should be all this worry and trouble about anything so simple as a love affair. She had a motive, a reason, and, so to speak, a contributory incentive in her attachment to him.

Her passion, in fact, was daily augmented by her repulsion for her husband. The more she abandoned herself to the one, the more she detested the other. Never did Charles seem so unattractive, his fingernails so stubby, his mind so dull, his manners so boorish as when she found herself with him, after her passages with Rodolphe. Then, while she played the virtuous and dutiful wife, she grew warm with longing as she thought of that handsome bronzed face with its dark wavy hair, of that figure, at once so strong and so elegant, of his power and decision of mind, his unconquerable ardour. For him it was that she pared and trimmed her nails with such scrupulous care, for him that she was for ever larding her face with cold cream and drenching her handkerchiefs with patchouli. She loaded herself with bracelets, rings and necklaces. When she expected him to come, she filled her two big blue-glass vases with roses, and arranged her room and adorned her person like a courtesan awaiting a prince. The maid was for ever washing and ironing her things, and the whole day long Felicite would never stir out of the kitchen, where little Justin, who often kept her company, would watch her at her work.

Leaning with his elbow resting on her long ironing-board, he gazed eagerly on all the articles of feminine attire spread out around him- dimity petticoats, pieces of lace, collarettes, drawers with running strings, wide about the hips and gathered in at the knee.

’What’s that for?’ said the youth, running his hand over the crinoline or the fastenings.

’What! haven’t you seen those before?’ said Felicite, with a laugh. ’As if your missus, Madame Homais, didn’t wear the like!’

’O Lord, Madame Homais! As if she were a lady like Madame Bovary!’ he added meditatively.

But Felicite was getting sick of seeing him hanging about her apron strings. She was six years older than he was, and Theodore, Monsieur Guillaumin’s man, was beginning to run after her.

’Oh, leave me be!’ she said, moving her starch pot. ’Why don’t you go and get on with your almond-pounding? You’re for ever dangling about after the women. Wait till your beard begins to grow, you saucy little imp, before thinking of things like that?’

’All right, keep your wool on! I’ll do her boots for you.’

So saying, he reached up on to the shelf and took down Emma’s boots’, all caked with mud- the mud of the trysting place- which came away in powder as he picked it off. He looked at the dust as it slowly rose up in a beam of the sun.

’How careful you are with ’em!’ said the cook. She wasn’t so particular when she cleaned them herself, because as soon as the bloom was off her mistress passed them on to her. Emma had lots of pairs in the cupboard. She wore out pair after pair in no time, and Charles never grumbled at all.

Similarly she spent three hundred francs on a wooden leg which she thought it the right thing to give to Hippolyte. The upper part was covered with cork and it had spring joints; altogether an elaborate piece of mechanism encased in one leg of a pair of black trousers and terminating in a patent-leather boot. But Hippolyte, not liking to sport so spanking a leg for every day, begged Madame Bovary to buy him a more serviceable one. The doctor, naturally, had to pay for this as well.

So little by little the stable-man got back to work. He was to be seen going about the village as heretofore, and whenever Charles heard his wooden leg stumping along in the distance he quickly made off in another direction. It was Monsieur Lheureux the draper who had had the order put through. This had given him an excuse for seeing a good deal of Emma. He told her all about the latest consignments from Paris, all sorts of ladies’ goods, was most obliging and never asked for his money. Emma found this a most seductively facile way of satisfying her caprices. For example, she was anxious to make Rodolphe a present of a very handsome riding-whip that was on show at an umbrella shop in Rouen. The very next week Monsieur Lheureux deposited it on her table.

But the day after he came along with a bill amounting to two hundred and seventy francs, not counting the centimes. Emma was in a quandary. All the drawers in the writing-desk had been cleared out. More than two weeks’ wages were owing to Lestiboudois, two quarters to the servant, and a host of other things besides. Bovary was anxiously waiting for a remittance from Monsieur Derozerays, who, in previous years, had always paid up some time in July.

She managed to get rid of Lheureux for the time being; but at last he lost patience. He had numerous liabilities to meet, his money was all locked up, and if he did not get in some accounts that were owing, he would be compelled to ask her to return the goods.

’Very well, take them,’ said Emma.

’Oh, I was only joking!’ he replied. ’The one thing I’m sorry about is the riding-whip. I know! I’ll ask the doctor to let me have it back.’

’No, don’t!’ she exclaimed.

’Aha, I’ve got you!’ thought Lheureux to himself. And, sure of being on the right track, he went out, saying under his breath, ’Right! We shall see, we shall see!’

She was thinking how she was going to get out of this difficulty when the maid came in and put a little blue-paper packet on the table, ’With Monsieur Derozerays’s compliments’. Emma pounced on it and tore it open. Fifteen napoleons. Just the amount of the bill. She heard Charles coming up the stairs. Like a flash she flung the money to the back of the drawer and took out the key.

Three days later Lheureux appeared again.

’I want to suggest an arrangement,’ he said. ’If, instead of the sum agreed, you would...’

’There you are,’ said she, putting fourteen napoleons in his hand.

This quite took the wind out of his sails. He didn’t know which way to look, he was so taken aback. He was profuse in apologies and offers of service, all of which Emma declined. She stood awhile meditatively fingering in her apron pocket the ten francs change he had given her. She made up her mind to save, so that later on she could pay back....

’Bah!’ she thought to herself, ’he won’t think any more about it.’

Over and above the silver-mounted riding-whip, Rodolphe had been presented with a seal with the motto Amor nel Cor ; also a scarf for a muffler, and finally a cigarette-case exactly like the one belonging to the Vicomte, which Charles had found in the road and which Emma had kept. However, these presents made him feel small. He had refused several, but she would insist, and Rodolphe had given in, thinking her rather too tyrannical and interfering.

Then she had queer ideas.

’When the clock strikes midnight,’ she would say, ’think of me!’

And if he confessed that he had forgotten all about it, she would break out into a torrent of reproaches, always ending up on the same eternal note,

’Do you love me?’

’Yes, I love you,’ he would answer.

’A lot?’

’Yes, of course!’

’And you haven’t loved any other women?’

’What! you don’t imagine I was an innocent cherub when I met you, do you?’ he would rejoin, with a laugh.

Whereat Emma would burst into tears, and he would have to do his best to comfort her, seasoning his protestations with verbal quips and witticisms.

’Oh, but you see. I love you so!’ she would begin again: ’love you so much that I cannot live without you, do you know? There are times when I long to see you, times when all the furious torments of love tear my heart asunder. "Where is he now?" I say to myself. "Perhaps he’s talking to other women, and they are smiling at him, and he is fascinated by them...." But no, it isn’t so. You don’t love them, do you? You may find more beautiful women than I, but none that know how to love as I do. I am your servant, your concubine. You are my king, my idol! You are kind! You are handsome! You are clever! You are strong!’

He had heard this sort of thing so often that he had got quite used to it. Emma was just like the rest of them. And the charm of novelty, slipping off little by little like a garment, displayed in all its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, with its unchanging formulas, its stereotyped expressions. Deeply versed though he was in the technique of love-making, he failed to realize that the same words do not always imply the same feelings. Because he had heard these words murmured by the bought lips of some Venus of the market-place, he put no great faith in their sincerity. Mere exaggerated protestations, not to be taken at their face value! Thus he said to himself, never dreaming that sometimes a full heart may find expression in the most hackneyed of metaphors, since to no one is it ever given to convey the exact measure of one’s cravings, one’s ideas or one’s pain; never dreaming that human speech is like a crazy kettle on which we can only beat out tunes fit to charm a dancing bear, when all the while we would fain conjure the wandering stars and make them weep for us.

But with the critical aloofness of a man who, in no matter what crisis, holds himself in the rear of his affections, Rodolphe discerned in this liaison some new sensations to exploit. Modesty he considered should be wholly aside. There was no ceremony about his treatment of her. He made of her something cunning and corrupt. It was a sort of fatuous attachment, full of admiration for him, of voluptuousness for her, a state of beatitude which drugged her senses; and her soul sank deep in this sensual flood and lay drowned and shrunken in its depths like the Duke of Clarence in his butt of Malmsey.

By its very continuance, her illicit love wrought a change in Madame Bovary’s demeanour. There was a boldness in the way she looked and in the things she said. She even went the length of parading about with Monsieur Rodolphe, ostentatiously puffing a cigarette, just to show her contempt for public opinion. At last, those who doubted, doubted no more when they saw her get out of the Hirondelle one day, her waist squeezed into a waistcoat like a man; and Madame Bovary senior, who, after an appalling scene with her husband, had come to take refuge at her son’s, was not the least scandalized among the respectable women of the place. There were many other things she didn’t approve of. To begin with, Charles had not taken her advice about putting a stop to the novel-reading. Then she didn’t like the way the house was run. She took it upon herself to mention a few things, and they had words, once in particular. It was about Felicite.

Madame Bovary, going along the passage the previous night, had caught her with a man- a man in a brown collar, somewhere about forty. As soon as he heard her coming, this individual slipped out through the kitchen. Emma began to laugh; but the good lady was highly indignant, and said that if people thought anything about morals at all, they ought to keep an eye on their servants.

’Where were you brought up, I should like to know?’ said her daughter-in-law, with such an insolent look that Madame Bovary asked her if she was championing her own cause.

’Get out of my sight!’ cried the young woman, springing to her feet.

’Emma!... Mamma!...’ exclaimed Charles, trying to allay the storm. But they had both rushed away in their exasperation.

’Oh, what manners! What a peasant!’ cried Emma, stamping with fury.

Charles rushed away to his mother. She was beside herself.

’She’s an impudent hussy,’ she gasped, ’a featherbrain, and worse than that, I shouldn’t wonder!’

She said she wouldn’t stay in the house another instant unless Emma came and apologized. So away Charles went to his wife and implored her to yield; he went down on his knees to her.

’Very well, I’ll go,’ she said at last.

She went, and holding out her hand to her mother-in-law with all the dignity of a marquise, she said,

’I ask your pardon, Madame.’

Then, back in her room again, she flung herself on the bed and sobbed like a child, burying her face in the pillow.

They had arranged, she and Rodolphe, that if anything out of the way should happen she was to fasten a piece of white paper to the blind, and that, if he chanced to be in Yonville and saw it, he was to hurry round to the alley at the back of the house. Emma put up the signal. She had been waiting about three-quarters of an hour when all of a sudden she saw Rodolphe coming round by the market. She felt she must open the window and call him; but he was already out of sight. She fell back, feeling desperate.

Soon, however, she thought she heard footsteps on the pavement. ’It must be he,’ she thought. She went downstairs and across the yard.

And there, sure enough, he was, just outside. She flung herself into his arms.

’I say! Look out!’ he exclaimed.

’Oh, if you only knew,’ she began. And then she went on to tell him the whole thing, speaking hurriedly, incoherently; exaggerating, inventing, and interjecting such an abundance of parentheses, that he could make nothing of it.

’There then, my poor angel, don’t give way; be comforted, have patience.’

’Yes, I have been patient for four years; for four years I’ve been suffering. Love like ours should be blazoned in the face of heaven! They do all they can to torment me. I can’t bear it any longer. Save me!’

She huddled up close to Rodolphe. Her eyes were filled with tears and sparkled like flames beneath the waters. Her breast was heaving with little short, sharp gasps. Never had he felt such love for her. Swept off his feet, he said,

’What must we do? What do you wish to do?’

’Take me away!’ she cried, ’take me from here.... Oh, I beseech you!’

And she flung herself on his mouth as though to seize the unlooked- for ’yes’ that stole from it in a kiss.

’But...’ Rodolphe began.


’What about the child?’

She thought a minute or two and then answered,

’We will take her too. It’s the only thing to do.’

’What a woman!’ he said to himself, as he saw her disappear, for she had slipped back into the garden. Someone was calling.

Madame Bovary senior was much astonished at the change that had come over her daughter-in-law the last day or two. Emma, in fact, was quite submissive, and pushed her deference so far as to ask her for a recipe for pickling gherkins.

Was she trying to throw dust in their eyes, or was it the very voluptuousness of stoicism that led her thus to drink so deeply of the bitterness of all that she was soon to leave for ever? In reality she didn’t care a straw about them. On the contrary, she lived as though lost in the foretaste of the happiness to come.

It was the one everlasting topic of conversation with Rodolphe. She would lean her head on his shoulder and murmur:

’Ah, when once we are in the coach! Can you imagine it? Is it possible? It seems to me that the moment I feel it start, it will be as if we were going up in a balloon, as if we were bound for the clouds. Do you know, I count the days! Do you?’

Never had Madame Bovary looked so beautiful as now. She went clothed in that indefinable loveliness which comes of joy, enthusiasm, success, and is but the perfect harmony of temperament and outward circumstance. Her yearnings, her sorrows, her joys, her still youthful illusions, had gradually developed her, even as flowers are developed by soil and rain, by sun and wind, and now, at length, she blossomed forth in all the fullness of her nature. Her eyelids seemed carved expressly for her lingering looks of love, when the pupils seemed to melt away in mist. Her deep, rich breathing dilated her delicate nostrils and raised the full corners of her lips, on which, in a strong light, you could detect a shading of softest down. You would have said that some past-master in the art of seduction had ordained the subtle way her hair should fall upon her neck. It was twisted in a heavy coil, carelessly, with whatever variations the adulterous encounters that daily unloosed it might chance to lend it. The modulations of her voice, like the curves of her figure, grew softer. As you looked on her, some subtle emanation pervaded your being, an influence that seemed to steal from the folds of her gown or the arch of her foot. Charles thought her as delicious, and as wholly irresistible, as on the day she became his bride.

When he came home late at night he did not dare to wake her. The porcelain night-lamp cast a ring of tremulous light on the ceiling, and the curtains of the cot glimmered like a little white hut in the shadows beside their bed. Charles would stand and look at them. He thought he could hear the soft breathing of his little one. She would be getting a big girl soon now; every month or two would see a difference in her. Already he pictured her, in imagination, coming home from school at the end of the day, with a smile on her face and ink on her pinafore, her basket slung over her arm. Then she’d have to go to boarding-school. That would cost money; and where was it coming from? And so he fell to thinking. What about renting a little farm somewhere near by, a little place to which he could give an eye every morning as he started out on his rounds? He would save the income, put it in the savings bank; then, later on, he’d buy some shares in some concern or other; it didn’t much matter what. Besides, the practice would grow; he hoped so, anyhow, because he wanted Berthe to have a good education, he wanted her to be a clever girl, to learn the piano. What a pretty child she would be one of these days- when she was about fifteen, say! She would be so like her mother. And when, in the summer, they both wore the same sort of broad-brimmed straw hat, people would take them for sisters. He pictured her sitting with them of an evening, sewing in the lamplight. She would work him some slippers. She would busy herself in the house and fill the place with charm and gaiety. Then they would have to look about for a husband for her; some decent fellow who could afford to keep her in comfort. He would make her happy, and so things would go on for ever and ever.

Emma was not asleep, though she feigned to be, and while he was dozing off beside her she awakened in a land of very different dreams-

Behind four galloping horses, she and her lover had been faring for a whole week towards a new land, never more to return. On and on they went, arm linked in arm and uttering never a word. Ever and anon, gazing down from a mountain top, they would descry a splendid city with domes and bridges, and shipping and orange groves, and cathedrals of white marble with storks’ nests in their airy towers. And the pavement would be bright with bouquets of flowers which women in red bodices would proffer as you passed. Bells would be ringing, mules whinnying, and the soft strains of guitars would mingle with the plash of fountains whose soft mist, lightly wafted, brought coolness to the piles of fruit heaped up in pyramids at the foot of gleaming statues that smiled beneath their canopy of spray.

One evening they came to a village of fisherfolk where brown nets were drying in the wind along the cliff and by the huts. It was there they would stay and live. They would have a low house with a flat roof, shadowed by a palm-tree in the shelter of a bay beside the sea. They would glide in gondolas, they would swing in hammocks, and existence would be for them as smooth and easy as their silken raiment, as warm and starry as the night skies whereon they would feast their gaze. Howbeit, in all this illimitable vision of the future that she summoned up, nothing stood out in definite relief. The days, all bathed in equal splendour, resembled each other as wave resembles wave, and the vision swayed softly on the far horizon, infinite, harmonious, bathed in azure haze, and gilded over with sunlight. And then the child would cough in her cot, or Bovary begin to snore more loudly, and morning would come gleaming white at the windows, and little Justin would be out taking down the shutters of the chemist’s shop, before ever Emma had closed her eyes in sleep.

She sent for Monsieur Lheureux and said to him, ’I shall be wanting a cloak- a big cloak, lined, with a deep collar.’

’Are you going away?’ he asked.

’No, but.... Oh, well, never mind. But you’ll manage it, won’t you and soon?’

He bowed assent.

’And then I shall want a trunk.... Something easy to handle.’

’Quite so, I understand; three feet by one and a half- that’s the usual thing nowadays.’

’And a travelling bag.’

’H’m!’ thought Lheureux, ’there’s evidently something up here.’

’And, look here,’ said Madame Bovary, taking her watch from her belt. ’Take this, and pay yourself out of the proceeds.’

But Lheureux deprecated this with vehemence. They knew one another. Did she think he couldn’t trust her? What an idea!

However, she insisted on his having the chain, at any rate, and Lheureux had put it in his pocket and was taking his departure, when she called him back.

’Keep everything at your shop. Oh! and about the cloak’- here she seemed to hesitate- ’don’t bring that either. Just let me know the name of the makers and tell them to keep it till I call.’

It was the following month that they were to run away. She was going to get away from Yonville on the pretext of having some purchases to make in Rouen. Rodolphe would have booked the seats, seen to the passports and written to Paris in order to have the mail coach all to themselves as far as Marseilles, where they were to buy a carriage and go right through to Genoa. She was going to get her luggage over to Lheureux’s, so that it could be put straight on to the Hirondelle without anybody’s smelling a rat. But in all this the child was never so much as mentioned, and Rodolphe avoided any reference to her; perhaps she had given up the idea of taking her.

He wanted to have a clear fortnight in front of him to put through certain business matters; then, a week having gone by, he must needs have another fortnight; then, he wasn’t feeling up to the mark, and then he went away on a journey. The whole of August went by, and finally, after all these delays, the date of their departure was irrevocably fixed for the 4th September, a Monday.

At length the Saturday arrived, two days before the fateful day.

In the evening Rodolphe came, earlier than usual.

’Is everything ready?’ she asked.


Then they strolled round the flower-beds and went and sat by the terrace, on the edge of the wall.

’You’re sad,’ said Emma.

’No. Why?’

And yet he was looking at her strangely, wistfully.

’Is it because you are going away?’ she went on, ’leaving the things you love, the things that have been your life? Ah, I understand!... But I, I have nothing in the world! You are all in all to me. And so I shall be everything to you. I will be country and home to you. I will cherish you, I will love you.’

’How charming you are!’ said he, taking her in his arms.

’You mean that?’ she said, with a voluptuous laugh. ’Do you love me? Swear it, then!’

’Love you? Love you? Why, I adore you, my own!’

The moon- a big, round, crimson moon- was just peering over the edge of the world, away at the far end of the meadow. She mounted quickly among the branches of the poplars, which hid her here and there, like a dark curtain fretted with holes. Then she appeared white and dazzling in the empty heavens, flooding all their spaces with her light. And now, hasting no more, she let fall, on the river, a great splash of white, which shivered into myriads of stars; and this silver gleam seemed to undulate upon the water, far as eye could see, like a headless serpent, all covered with luminous scales. Or it might have been a huge candelabrum, whence, all along, from end to end, there swiftly trickled drops of molten diamond. The warm, soft night enfolded them about. Shadowy masses gloomed amid the foliage. Emma, sighing deeply, with eyes half-closed, was breathing-in the cool night wind. They spoke no word, whelmed in the sweeping tide of reverie. The sweetness of old, forgotten days flooded their hearts again, full and silent as the river that flowed beside them, suave as the perfume of the syringas, and flung athwart their memories shadows vaster and more dolorous than the shade of the willows that lay motionless along the sward. Often some creature of the night, hedgehog or weasel, seeking its prey, would rustle the leaves, or maybe, at intervals, a peach would drop, from very ripeness, from its bough.

’Ah, what a lovely night!’ said Rodolphe.

’We shall have others,’ she answered.

And then, as though speaking to herself, she went on, ’Yes, it will be good to travel. Yet, why should my heart be sad? Is it dread of the unknown... or the break with all I have been used to?... Or is it not rather...? No, it is because I am too happy in my happiness! How weak I am, am I not? Forgive me!’

’There is yet time,’ he exclaimed. ’Reflect! You may be sorry later on.’

’Never!’ she cried impetuously.

’What ill could befall me?’ she said, drawing closer to him. ’There is no desert, no place so perilous, no ocean so wide, I would not cross it with you. As long as we live together, the bond that joins us will grow daily stronger and more perfect. Nothing will cloud our happiness- no cares, no obstacles. We shall be alone, all in all to each other, eternally....’

And he answered at regular intervals, saying, ’Yes... Yes!...’

She passed her hands through his hair and kept saying in a baby voice, despite the big tears that were falling,

’Rodolphe! Rodolphe!... Ah, Rodolphe, dear little Rodolphe!’

It struck midnight.

’Midnight!’ she said. ’Come, it’s tomorrow! just one day more!’

He rose to go. And as if the movement he made had been the signal for their flight, she cried in a sudden access of gaiety.

’You’ve got the passports?’


’You haven’t forgotten anything?’


’You’re sure?’

’Quite sure.’

’It’s at the Hotel de Provence , isn’t it, that we’re to meet, at twelve o’clock?’

He nodded.

’Tomorrow, then!’ said Emma, with a last caress.

And she watched him go.

He did not look behind. She ran after him and, leaning over the water’s edge among the bulrushes, cried,


He was already over the river and striding rapidly across the meadow.

After a few minutes Rodolphe came to a halt; and when he saw her white figure fade gradually away into the shadows, like a phantom, his heart began to thump so wildly that he had to lean against a tree to keep himself from falling.

’What an imbecile I am!’ he exclaimed, with a crude oath. ’Never mind, she was a rattling fine little woman!’

And as he said it, Emma’s beauty, the thought of all the times they had had together, came back into his mind. For a moment he felt like weeping; and then he poured out his wrath against her.

’For, after all,’ he exclaimed, waving his arms about, ’I couldn’t go and bury myself alive like that, and saddle myself with a child into the bargain.’

He said all this to bolster up his resolution.

’And besides, look at the worry, the expense! Ah, no, no! Never in your life! The thing would have been too damned silly!’


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Chicago: Gustave Flaubert, "21," Madame Bovary, trans. J. Lewis May Original Sources, accessed November 26, 2022,

MLA: Flaubert, Gustave. "21." Madame Bovary, translted by J. Lewis May, Original Sources. 26 Nov. 2022.

Harvard: Flaubert, G, '21' in Madame Bovary, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 26 November 2022, from