Tuesday, 16 April 2013

(Moral) Capital Runs Out

Emma's visits to Rodolphe in his bed chamber and her feverish plans to run away with him are so shocking because of Emma's wilful eagerness to pursue her affair with him (Part II). Otherwise, the affair with Rodolphe has a well-established tradition - a wealthy, experienced man amusing himself with an attractive, provincial wife. This is the set-up of French mistresses we have learned to expect, echoing Laclos's Dangerous Liaisons (1782) and various more prosaic mistresses in books by such popular authors as Emile Gaboriau (see for example The Lerouge Case published in 1866).

Emma's newly kindled affair with Lėon, however, comes across as shockingly illicit and seedy. The couple first meet in the cathedral at Rouen, Lėon 'forces' Emma into a cab, and they go for an endless drive. The narrative lists street after street and we can almost build a map of Rouen out of heir erratic route:

"From time to time the coachman on his box cast despairing eyes at public houses. He could not understand what furious desire for locomotion urged these individuals never to wish to stop. He tried, now and then, and at once exclamations of anger burst forth before him. ... And on the harbour, in the midst of drays and casks, and in the streets, at the corners, the good fold opened large wonderstricken eyes at this sight, so extraordinary in the provinces, a cab with drawn blinds, and which kept coming into view, shut more closely than a tomb, and tossing about like a vessel." (Part III, Chapter 1)

On October 10, 1854, in Surrey the adulterous Mrs Robinson had also been having an exciting cab ride with her lover. In her diary she wrote: "I never spent so blessed an hour as he one that followed, full of such bliss that I could willingly have died not to wake out of it again."  (Quoted in Kate Summerscale's Mrs Robinson's Disgrace [2012, p.86]) According to Summerscale, London hackney cabs with their pleasure-enhancing jolting motion were infamous meeting places for prostitutes and all manner of immoral trysts (Ibid, p. 87). And in Madame Bovary, when Emma protests, "Really - I don't know - if I ought," Lėon replies "How so? ... It is done in Paris." (Part III, Chapter 1)

After that first encounter, back in Yonville, Emma is called to Homais' house. Justin, the apprentice, is told off for picking up a pan next to a bottle of arsenic, then a book entitled Conjugal - Love  - with illustrations - falls out of his pocket. Next Emma is told her father-in-law is dead. Later, at home, she sits with Charles: "He seemed to her paltry, weak, a cipher - in a word, a poor thing in every way. How to get rid of him?" (Part III, Chapter 2). Any experiences reader of sensation fiction would add up the equation: arsenic + love + death = murder. At this stage it very much looks like it might Charles's life in danger, especially after L'Heureux suggests that Charles grants Emma a power of attorney (Ibid.)

Emma likes to spend money. She enjoys buying presents, whether they are a rug for Lėon (Part II, Chapter 4) or a riding whip for Rodolphe (Part II, Chapter 12). Her purchases are aides d'imagination. They are romantic crutches for Emma to create an image of an ideal existence. Lėon's rug indicates to everyone that he is Emma's lover. Rodolphe finds her presents an embarrassment. (Part II, Chapter 12). The riding habit convinces Emma to go riding Part II, Chapter 9), the luggage and travel cape are needed before an elopement (Part II, Chapter 12).

The Bovarys are a gold mine for the draper and loan-shark L'Heureux. Both Charles and Emma owe him money and he keeps encouraging them, cultivating their profligacy. At the end of Madame Bovary, when L'Heureux calls the bailiffs in, Emma tries to bargain with him (Part IIII, Chapter 6). She runs to Lėon, who has not money to help her. Next she goes to the notary, who makes a pass at her. Then she is seen to plead with Binet the tax-collector, who "as if at the sight of a serpent, recoiled as far as he could from her" (Part III, Chapter 7). Then Emma thinks of Rodolphe, her last hope: "not seeing that she was hastening to offer herself to that which but a while ago had so angered her, not in the least conscious of her prostitution." (Part III, Chapter 7).

This point is significant enough for the narrator to step out of the guise of a character and talk to us directly. It is Emma's decision to use "reawaking, in a single moment, their lost love" if necessary, to get money from him that is her final fall from grace. Fake piano lessons to cover appointments with Lėon (Part III, Chapter 4) and even partying the night away in Rouen without telling Charles (Part III, Chapter 5) are not as bad as this - the crime where sex and finances come together. Willingness to squander both sexual favours and money is the ultimate bottom of the moral pit.

It is not clear whether it is financial ruin or misfortune in love that brings about Emma's end. The affair with Lėon has run its course: "She was as sick of him as he was weary of her. Emma found again in adultery all the platitudes of marriage." (Part III, Chapter 6). Her love for Lėon will not satisfy, her ability to re-kindle love with Rodolphe fails. The scene with Rodolphe is a magnificent show-down with Emma raging against her situation (Part III, Chapter 8). Rodolphe does not have the money to give her. Emma leaves him: "Madness was coming upon her; she grew afraid, and managed to recover herself, in a confused way, it is true, for she did not in the least remember the cause of the terrible condition she was in, that is to say, the question of money. She suffered only in her love ..." (Part III, Chapter 8).

Emma goes straight to Homais's and gets Justin to open the laboratory door for her. (Ibid.)

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