Madame Bovary, part III

Why not continue with my look at place in Madame Bovary when the very beginning of part III provides me with opportunities to do so? Beware, however; I’m not sure any of it has taken me any closer to a conclusion.

Part III, chapter I opens with Léon’s story for the past few years, while Emma has been busy with Rodolphe and her illness. In Paris, he behaved himself perfectly well, if perfectly conventionally. But when he sees Emma again, back in the provinces, she still has a hold over him. His cosmopolitan experience has given him the confidence he will need to resist her worst excesses, later, and to win her to begin with, but his return to the provinces seems to mean a return to “provincial ways,” if we want to use Emma as a benchmark for such an idea.

Throughout the affair between Emma and Léon, the issue of place becomes hyperlocalized. Their first tryst is put off and put off by their presence in a cathedral, a meeting-place chosen by Emma and used by her as a way to resist, however false her resistance was, Léon’s advances. Then the carriage scene, probably my favorite in the novel. Léon “thrust[s] Emma into the carriage”:

And the heavy vehicle started off.

It went down the rue Grand-Pont, crossed the place des Arts, the quai Napoléon, and the Pont Neuf, and stopped short in front of the statue of Pierre Corneille.

“Keep going!” said a voice issuing from the interior.

Rinse and repeat; Léon drives the carriage on, through Rouen, through the countryside, with no destination but a desire to make the ride last as long as possible.

And immediately starting off again, it went past Saint-Sever, along the quai des Curandiers, along the quai aux Meules, once again over the bridge, by the place du Champ-de-Mars, and behind the gardens of the home for the elderly….

It was seen at Saint-Pol, at Lescure, at Mont Gargan, at the Rouge-Mare, and in the place du Gaillardbois; in the rue Maladrerie, the rue Dinanderie, in front of Saint-Romain, Saint-Vivien, Saint-Maclou, Saint-Nicaise—in front of the Customs House—at the Basse Vieille-Tour, at Trois-Pipes, and at the Cimetière Monumental.

And on, and on. The whole thing reminds of nothing so much as Catherine’s wine list in Jules et Jim (please ignore the subtitles if you can, they miss half the list). What an interesting connection that is, by the way—not only does the list lead to the beginning of her affair, but there’s that whole business earlier…”Elle est d’origine aristocratique par son père, populaire par sa mère. Son père descend d’une vieille famille bourguignonne. Sa mère était Anglaise. Grâce à cela, elle ignore la moyenne….”

Anyway, back to the book! More stuff about place: there’s the room Emma and Léon always meet in, which she thinks of as “theirs”; there’s the fact that she now travels not just across the fields on foot, like with Rodolphe, but across the province by carriage to Rouen. The location of her new affair in Rouen provides both new freedom and new complications, not to mention new opportunities for Emma to spend more and more money. She can pretend to be from Rouen, or at least nearby, and the weekly trips make her own home less and less bearable.

And noticing the importance of the hotel room to Emma’s final romance helps foreground the other locations that have played a role in her affairs. There are the arbor behind the Bovarys’ house, the fields on the way to Rodolphe’s château (newly important to Emma in her distress at the end of the novel), the walk through the countryside on her wedding day. And there is always the dream of Paris as somewhere to run away to, somewhere her male lovers and acquaintances have been but where Emma will never go.

And that is perhaps the most lasting image I have at the end. From the first change of place Emma makes during the course of the novel, from her father’s farm to Bovary’s house, to her last travels, running frantically around Yonville looking for money, Emma never gets what she is hoping for from all this movement. She doesn’t want to be where she is; she expects to find freedom, sophistication, passion, happiness, elsewhere. She can never be rich; she can never get to Paris. The only thing for it is to take to her bed and die.

Thanks to Frances for hosting the Madame Bovary Readalong; it’s been great. Visit her final post on the novel for more of this week’s participants.

7 comments to Madame Bovary, part III

  • I like how you bring up the glimpsed/imagined, but never actually visited, Paris. Just one of the many heavens and hells glimpsed, chased, and fled from throughout the novel.

  • The carriage scene is a scream, isn’t it? It is a truly modern scene. I’ve just ordered Chabrol’s film treatment of MB and look forward to seeing how he manages that scene.

  • Also loved the carriage scene, the fantastic pacing that came to feel like the reckless and directionless speed of the carriage through the streets. The film is in my queue as well, and can’t wait until it arrives this week.

    Enjoyed all the scenic points touched on here, and many thanks for reading along with everyone.

  • The hotel scenes were touching – how pleased she is to find her hairpins on the nighstand, how eager she is to make this place her own. It’s so temporary and does make home more miserable, but there is fleeting pleasure more in those familiarities than, it seems, in bed with Leon.

  • The carriage scene is hilarious! And of course she never sees any of those places, is never really in them, because the whole while she’s in the carriage.

  • How interesting to look at Emma’s physical movement (never stable) in respect to her emotional movement (never at peace). The piece you quoted about the carriage fascinated me as well, and I have the image of Emma dropping her white handkerchief out the window; I guess it’s another ‘metaphor’ if you will for things she loses on her search for meaning. Never to be found.

    (I live in Chicago, too, for all practical purposes. It’s nice to meet you, and thank you for commenting on my Bovary thoughts.)

  • Isabella—that’s a great point! I hadn’t completely realized that but yes, a whole list of places where they, in fact, don’t go.