Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady Detective

The female detective seems to appear in popular fiction before we encounter her in real life. Once the detective officer was established as a popular hero of sensational fiction by the 1860s, it was but a short step to add more spice into the story by dressing this officer in a petticoat.

In real life, from the 1850s onwards, there were women working as 'police matrons' at police stations to look after and search female suspects. They were usually police sergeants' wives. In 1883 the Metropolitan Police employed the first woman as a female visitor to keep an eye on female convicts on license and women under police supervision. In 1889 fourteen women were engaged to look after female prisoners at the police courts. In The Invention of Murder (2011) Judith Flanders writes: "two women were hired to look after female prisoners at police stations in 1883" (p. 298) (Her information clearly differs from that of the Open University website). The first female police officer worked in Portland, Oregon in 1905. In the UK it was only after WWI that women joined the police force as officers.

Women's Police Service of volunteers was started in 1914, and two years later women were employed as typists by the Metropolitan Police. When an official of the Met was asked by the journalists of women would ever serve as police constables, the official famously replied: "No, not even if the war lasts fifty years." In December 1918 plans were made for new "Metropolitan Women Police Patrols." (This information about the history of the police is from the Open University website and the website of the Metropolitan Police. For more information see also Police Detectives in History, 1750-1950. Ed by Clive Emsley and Haya Shpayer-Makov, 2006 ).

This is the official history of women police. But the obvious question is whether fiction reflects the reality more than we are aware of? There is an argument to be made that women were occasionally employed to assist in investigations on a freelance basis. Until 1884 detectives, and before them Bow Street runners, sold their services as thief-takers and unravellers of tangled skeins to anyone wanting to employ them. It would only make sense that there would be situations where a woman's assistance would come in handy.

British Library has very conveniently re-published the adventures of the two earliest known professional female detectives in fiction. Andrew Forrester's The Female Detective was published in May 1864. At its heels followed The Revelations of a Lady Detective (October 1864) attributed to William Stephens Hayward. Both books have first person narratives, the Female Detective is Miss Gladden and the Lady Detective is Mrs Paschal. They are consummate professionals and a pair of tough cookies. The two collections of stories give a good view into the roots of detective fiction. They stand in the confluence of three traditions: sensational, gothic melodrama and the spine-tingling reporting of real crime can be seen to give way to the equally sensational romance of the newly invented detective police with its scientific methods.

There were surely other detective heroines in addition to Miss Gladden and Mrs Paschal. Flanders mentions Ruth the Betrayer (1862-3) by Edward Ellis (The Invention of Murder, p. 298), and she makes a reference to women attached to a private inquiry office in Collins's Armadale (1866). In "The Lenton Croft Robberies" (1894) by Arthur Morrison, the detective says that "Of course there will be a female searcher at the Twyford police-station." There were also female detectives in stage plays (see The Invention of Murder, pp. 380-1). We know of a tradition of amateur detectives in sensation fiction (Marion Halcombe in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White in 1860 or, even much earlier, Susan Hopley in The Adventures of Susan Hopley by Catherine Crowe in 1841). By the 1890s there were plenty of female detectives fiction: Dorcas Dene, Detective by George M. Sims (two series of stories in 1897 and 1898); Amelia Butterworth by Anna Katharine Green (3 novels: That Affair Next Door [1897], Lost Man's Lane [1898] and The Circular Study [1900]); Loveday Brooke by C. L. Pirkis (1894). Where are the lady sleuths of the 1870s and 1880s?

In his introduction to The Revelations of a Lady Detective, Mike Ashley mentions Mr Bazalgette's Agent by Leonard Merrick in 1888 and, in the US, "The Lady Detective" by Harlan P. Halsey in his dime-novels, possibly in 1880. Are there more?

Margaret Kinsman is surely right to say that there is a whole hidden history of female detectives in the 19th century. They appear so special to us, because we only know of a handful of women detectives from that period. (Kinsman spoke at a panel discussion on the female detective at the British Library 8.3.2013.)

In her book about female detectives in fiction, Kathleen G. Klein argues about Miss Gladden and Mrs Paschal that "These characters are anomalies" - they have no precedents, and no followers (Klein. The Woman Detective: Gender & Genre, 2005, p. 29). "Certainly, the lack of additional similar characters and the absence of further British female private detectives until the 1890s diminishes the status of these precursors through silence and omission." (Ibid.)

Are Miss G and Mrs P oddities and mere gimmicks to attract readers, or are they part of a lost tradition of Victorian female private eyes? Can you solve the mystery of the vanishing lady detective?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Flaubert's writing is thrilling

The secret of the sensational power of Madame Bovary is Flaubert's superb writing. I said at the beginning that I was not interested in his quality of writing, his pernickety insistence of finding just the right word or his celebrated position as a towering figure in the development of the modern novel. I did not care if it took him four years to write Madame Bovary and sometimes several days to write a single sentence. But quite frankly, I was wrong. Good writing is thrilling. Although Madame Bovary is a 'sensation novel' because of its melodramatic story of adultery, financial collapse and suicide, what makes it truly sensational is the way this story is presented from a point of view integral to the story and its characters.

In her Beginner's Guide to French Literature (2011), Carol Clerk highlights two techniques Flaubert uses in his realist narrative: free indirect speech and characters' point of view at looking at the world around them.

To reel us in, Flaubert's narrative shows us characters act, talk and think. It is left to the reader to figure out the internal life of the characters and their motivations. This gives the narrative a hook: the actions, words and thoughts of the characters become clues for us to piece the whole characters together. This is both engaging and rewarding, it fires up the imagination. It demonstrates superbly the golden rule of good writing: 'show, don't tell.'

Part of this method of leaving the reader to draw her own conclusions is the apparent lack of judgment in the narrative. The narrator does not express an opinion about the events. Flaubert's probably most famous quote comes from one of his letters to Louise Colet: "An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere." The narrator passing judgment would be too much like God showing his hand.

Emma is contradictory, she dotes on Berthe and pushes her away; she tries to feel something for Charles, she loathes him; she wants to be loved by Rodolphe and she decided to be a good wife; she dabbles with religion then rejects it. Her behaviour is illogical, her emotions are messy and sometimes contradictory. This is a risky strategy for an author to adopt: a fictional character should have continuity and her actions should have an internal logic. Otherwise the reader will struggle to believe and the character will have no depth, no sense of being real. Flaubert manages to do the very opposite. Emma's erratic emotional states, her toing-and-froing in her marriage, her failed attempts at piety and virtue, all add up to build a portrait of a young woman in turmoil. She comes across as a character with a shallow nature and hidden depths.

Madame Bovary is sensational because it makes readers understand and accept the roots of Emma's adultery and profligacy. The narrative works hard to show us the world and life from Emma's point of view. We understand her motivations, we see her as a victim of her own imagination and we do not judge her morals. We may think her silly, provincial, selfish, but we do not think her unnaturally wicked or evil. She is, above all, natural - acting according to her own nature.

There is no simple message or moral to be gleaned from Madame Bovary. This is why it has stood the test of time and is still good reading today. But nevertheless, it is still commenting on its own time and society.
 Many have interpreted Emma Bovary as a model of a middle-class woman of the nineteenth-century: bound with the ties of social norms to home and motherhood, and above all lethally bored. She can be seen as a proto-feminist character pursuing her own dream and chafing against the constraints of society. It can also be argued that Madame Bovary gives expression to Flaubert's own frustrations with the middle-class society and his dislike of the high bourgeoisie of the mid-19th-century France. God may not be so invisible in his universe after all.


Emma pretends that she wanted to kill the rats that kept her from sleeping." (Part III, Chapter 8). She asks Justin to give her the key to Homais's laboratory. Together they climb the stairs.

In the nineteenth-century arsenic was not only used as rat-poison, pesticide and in fly-papers and sheep-dip. There was arsenic in paints, wallpapers, furniture, toys, artificial flowers and even cake decorations. Arsenic was used in dyes to produce a beautiful emerald green. Ladies (like Ms Florence Maybrick, convicted of poisoning her husband in 1889) soaked arsenical fly-paper to get a face-wash. Arsenic was good for the skin and produced a rosy-glow (by stimulating the blood vessels under the skin). Arsenical soaps and lotions were also available in shops. The only danger for avid use was that you hair might fall off, but that just made arsenic a good hair-remover, too. During the Maybrick trial a local chemist testified that Mr James Maybrick together with other gentlemen would line-up daily at his shop to take their arsenic-laced tonic as a 'pick-me-up.' It was a stimulant with, so men believed, aphrodisiac properties. Arsenic was also given to horses to work them, to make their coats glossy and to make them run faster. For a full and entertaining history of arsenic in the Victorian period, read James C. Wharton's The Arsenic Century (OUP, 2010).

Arsenic is colourless, odourless and tasteless. It is a white powder and cannot be detected without chemicals tests. It was therefore thought to be the choice weapon of poisoners, particularly unhappily married or abandoned women. In the 1840s there were two famous cases of poisoning by arsenic in France: Marie Lafarge and Euphėmie Lacoste were both ladies forced into marriages by poverty and family with men they did not much fancy. (Their stories are included in Mary S Hartman's Victorian Murderesses [Robson Books, 1977]). In the 1850s, there was a minor panic about arsenic in Britain. Although statistics do not seem to support the idea of a poisoning epidemic, the media made a bid deal out of arsenic. Like Julie Flanders writes in The Invention of Murder (Harper Press, 2011): "Once newspapers picked up the idea, the ubiquity if arsenic made it terrifying; as they printed more (and more sensational) cases, it appeared that poisoning cases were on the rise." (Flanders, p. 232). In fact, in the ten years 1849 to 1858, according to Flanders, there were only seventeen trials for poisoning at the Old Bailey (p. 234). Arsenic was seen particularly as a woman's weapon. This makes sense, because its administration in food to an unsuspecting victim and its acquisition in fly-paper, rat poison or cosmetic products are both activities that fall within the feminine realm in the Victorian house. Also, administering arsenic does not require physical force, only cunning and daring and, often, desperation.

M. Homais is very careful with this lethal substance and horrified by the prospect of mixing it with domestic activities. When Justin brings him a pan for jam-making from the laboratory, Homais explodes in anger, while Emma stands by to witness the scene:

"Didn't you see anything in corner, on the left, on the third shelf? .... You saw a bottle of blue glass, sealed with yellow wax, that contains white powder, on which I have even written 'Dangerous!' And do you know what it is? Arsenic! And you go and touch it! You take a pan that was next to it!"
            "Next to it!" cried Madame Homais, clasping her hands. "Arsenic! You might have poisoned us all."
And the children began howling as if they already had frightful pains in their entrails." (Part III, Chapter 2)

Now, "Emma went straight to the third shelf - so well did her memory guide her -seized the blue jar, tore out the cork, plunged in her hand, withdrawing it full of a white powder, she began eating it." (Part III, Chapter 8). "Then she went home, suddenly calmed, and with something of the serenity of one who had performed a duty." (Ibid.) Emma's action is quick and impulsive. She executes her suicide without forethought and without giving any consideration to consequences. She stays true to her character. But she might have thought it through a little more and chosen a less painful way. Emma is perhaps not aware of the agonies in store for her: "Ah! it is but a little thing, death! ... I shall fall asleep and all will be over." (Part III, Chapter 8). On the other hand, she has chosen her poison well for a melodramatic, prolonged death scene. Taking an overdose of opium, readily available in most households like the Bovarys', would have been quick and quiet; she would have just fallen asleep.

Arsenic is a mineral hat exists naturally around us and in our bodies. Small doses of arsenic may even be good for us, it stimulates metabolism and may help growth. Excess arsenic is processed by the liver. Our individual arsenic tolerance can vary greatly, and we can increase that tolerance by taking small doses of the poison. In the 1850s Styrian peasants in the Alps astonished the medical world by their ability to withstand lethal doses of arsenic without any ill effects. This was down to their life-long habit of dosing themselves with it. (This information and the following details of arsenic poisoning are from The Elements of Murder by John Emsley [OUP, 2005]).
When too much arsenic enters the body and its natural mechanism can no longer cope the first reaction is for the body to empty the gut. Vomiting starts any time between fifteen minutes and several hours after arsenic has been swallowed. The victim feels thirsty, she finds it difficult to swallow and her mouth and throat feel sore.

"I'm thirsty; oh, so thirsty," Emma sighs. Then she tells Charles to open a window "I am choking." "She was seized with a sickness so sudden that she had hardly time to draw out her handkerchief from under her pillow." (Part III, Chapter 8) Flaubert's description of Emma's symptoms follows closely those of acute arsenic poisoning. The painful stomach sensitive to pressure, the pale, damp and cold skin, weak and erratic pulse are all indications of acute arsenic poisoning. Decorously Flaubert has left out the diarrhoea, which starts after twelve hours and goes on until the body is convulsed in empty spasms. Death comes usually in 12-36 hours, some have been known to linger up to four days. The doctors cannot save Emma. She receives last rites from M. Bournisien.

"Her chest soon began panting rapidly; the whole of her tongue protruded from her mouth; her eyes as they rolled, grew paler, like the two globes of al amp that is going out, so that one might have thought her already dead but for the fearful labouring of her ribs, shaken by violent breathing, as if the soul were struggling to free itself." (Part III, Chapter 8).

Emma's servant is kneeling before a crucifix, the priest is praying in Latin, her husband is kneeling by the bed, his arms outstretched, holding on to her hands. Even Homais "slightly bent his knees" while M. Canivet, the celebrated doctor "vaguely looked out at the Place." The death scene tableau is almost perfect in its conventional piety. Suddenly the scene is penetrated by the "raucous voice" of the blind, homeless beggar singing of love: "Maids in the warmth of a summer day / Dream of love and of love alway."

"Emma raised herself like a galvanised corpse, her hair undone, her eyes fixed, staring." She laughs "an atrocious, frantic, despairing laugh." "The wind is strong this summer day, / Her petticoat has flown away." The song goes on and she falls dead with a final convulsion.

Emma has killed herself. In one sense her death seems selfish and unnecessary, a dramatic gesture of a wildly romantic young woman.  But at the moment she scoops up a handful of arsenic from the blue bottle and pushes it into her mouth, she is also desperate, lost and feeling that she has run out of options. She is not considering the impact of her actions, she just wants out. Her lovers have rejected her; all she has left is the hopelessly inadequate husband, a child she does not love and financial ruin. What does that final atrocious laugh mean? What memories, desires or regrets does the blind beggar's song recall?

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.)

Emma and the Experienced Seducer

Emma and Lėon's relationship is described as romantic love that remains physically unconsummated. They talk, but they do not have sex. The word 'adultery' has not yet been mentioned. After Lėon's departure Emma could still conceivably save herself from immorality and shame.

Rodolphe Boulanger is a man of many mistresses and has "an old Rheims biscuit-box" full of souvenirs from his past exploits (Part II, Chapter 13). "[H]e was of brutal temperament and intelligent perspicacity, having, moreover, had much to do with women, and knowing them well." (Part II, Chapter 7). Rodolphe effortlessly assesses the situation of the Bovarys: "I think he is very stupid. She is tired of him, no doubt. He has dirty nails, and hasn't shaved for three days. While he is trotting after his patients, she sits there darning socks. And she gets bored!" (Ibid.) He contemplates the option of making her his mistress from various angles and then decides: "Oh, I will have her." (Part II, Chapter 7).

What are the chances of Emma Bovary? Will she evade the clutches of this serial philanderer? So far, the narrative has built up tension with Emma's disillusionment with her marriage and her will they- won't they -relationship with Lėon. It is questionable whether any English novelist, no matter how sensational in aspirations, would have stated the immoral intent of a villain to seduce and debauch the novel's heroine quite so bluntly. Rodolphe's cool and composed declaration is effective and with one small sentence creates a whole new narrative momentum in the novel. We wait with anticipation how Emma will fare with Rodolphe.

Rodolphe opens his game during an agricultural show in Yonville. He settles down to talk to Emma about love at a window  while the town worthies sit on a platform below listening to a speech with "the common herd" of town's people gathered before it. I am not sure what to make of this scene (Part II, Chapter 8).  The speech by the Councillor (the Prefect could not come after all) and Rodolphe's persuasive discourse with Emma are mingled in alternate paragraphs. There is no obvious connection between the two; nothing in the speech seems to reflect Rodolphe's words.

There is the immediate comic effect of contrasting the pompous, public speech about the advances of agriculture with the private, intimate speech of romantic advances. There is also irony in Rodolphe conquering Madame Bovary on a day when Yonville is bursting with civic pride and self-importance. The narrative is quite brutal about the petty rivalries and inflated self-worth of Yonville. Just like the little, provincial town, Emma is today made to feel important.

Emma and Rodolphe's affair is consummated out in the woods and "with a long shudder and hiding her face, she gave herself up to him" (Part II, Chapter 10). This is a wildly melodramatic scene of heightened emotions and worthy of the most rampant romances. The sex is implied delicately, between the lines. The crucial paragraph records Emma's sensations of her surroundings and her own body: "Then far away, beyond the wood, she heard a vague prolonged cry, a voice which lingered, and in silence she heard it mingling like music with the last pulsations of her throbbing nerves." In the next sentence, Emma's sensuousness is contrasted with Rodoplhe''s manliness: "Rodoplhe, a cigar between his lips, was mending with his penknife one of the two broken bridles." Whatever took place was literally unbridled and cause for a cigar.

Throughout the affair with Rodolphe, Emma continues to compare herself to fictional heroines. She expects to feel emotions beyond any earthly delights - her imagination is always more powerful than reality, she is doomed to be disappointed.

"So at last she was to know those joys of love, that fever of happiness of which she had despaired! She was entering upon marvels where all would be passion, ecstasy, delirium." (Part II, Chapter 9)

Coming from a narrator, this excessive language is dripping with melodrama and pathos. But coming from Emma's point of view, as indirect free speech, it reveals the naivety of Emma's mind and her unrealistic expectations gleaned from romantic fiction. Flaubert is doing a nice trick here, giving us the full load of OTT passion in a third person narrative, but from an ironic distance by placing it inside the feverish mind of his protagonist.

"Then she recalled the heroines of the books she had read, and the lyric legion of these adulterous women began to sing in her memory with the voice of sisters that charmed her. She became herself, as it were, an actual part of these imaginings, ..." (Ibid.)

Emma finally sees her life reaching the romantic heights of fiction, and she is joining "the lyric legion" of adulterous heroines quite literally. The same theme surfaces later in the scene at the theatre, where Sir Walter Scott's Lucy of Lammemoor connects with Emma's mind and she lives through each emotion evoked by the play: "She recognized all the intoxication and the anguish that had almost killed her. The voice of the prima donna seemed to her to be but en echo of her conscience, and this illusion that charmed her appeared an actual part of her own life." (Part II, Chapter 15). Emma becomes her own fictional heroine, to star in the best romance ever produced: her own life. The irony is in the way a prosaic doctor's wife in provincial France and an eponymous heroine of a realist novel, is desperately longing to be a romantic adventuress and a heroine of a melodramatic romance. Emma Bovary is clearly in the wrong book.

In these chapters, Flaubert really lets rip with passion, desire and self-abandon. The language reaches new intensity in Emma's powerful expressions of desire and hatred. The narrative passes no judgment on Emma. Her dissatisfaction with poor Charles grows in step with her infatuation with Rodolphe, and again it is not clear if she is being driven into her lover's arms by her frustration with her dullard husband, or she is pulled into adultery by her own romantic imaginings fired up by fiction, or she is simply a country girl caught and exploited by an experienced womanizer. We can see Emma both as a wilful independent agent flouting convention and as a victim of circumstances and others' desires.

A letter from Emma's father recalls her to her sense and she begins to repent her adulterous passions. But Charles destroys all chance of marital happiness by his botched operation on Hippolyte's club foot and sends Emma straight back to Rodolphe's arms. M. Homais plants the seed in Charles's mind. Emma dreams of medical glory for her husband. Charles being Charles, we know that things will go horrible wrong. Amputation and a wooden leg, provided by Emma, are the direct result of this tragicomedy (Part II, Chapter 11). Emma's final disillusionment with her husband and her plan to elope with Rodolphe follow. (Part II, Chapter 12).

Emma is wildly committed to her lover, while he is growing both bored with her and alarmed by her ardour. "... I love you best. I know how to love best. I am your servant, your concubine! You are my king, my idol! You are good, you are beautiful, you are clever, you are strong!" (Ibid.) Emma's words leave Rodolphe more or less yawning:

"He had so often heard these things said that they did not strike him as original. Emma was like all his mistresses, and the charm of novelty, gradually falling away like a garment, laid bare the eternal monotony of passion, that has always the same forms and the same language. He did not distinguish, this man of so much experience, the difference of sentiment beneath the sameness of expression. Because libertine and venal lips had murmured such words to him, he believed but little in the candour of hers, exaggerated speeches hiding mediocre affections must be discounted; as if the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow in the emptiest metaphors, since no one can ever give the exact measure of his needs, nor his conceptions, nor of his sorrows, and since human speech is like a cracked kettle, on which we hammer tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars." Part II, Chapter 12)

In the middle of the unravelling love affair of Emma and Rodolphe, Flaubert's narrator suddenly steps outside of the characters and their immediate situation to describe beautifully the universal inadequacy of language, and gives us one of the best-known Flaubert quotations.

The day before their planned escape together, Rodolphe dumps Emma by letter and flees Yonville alone. Rodolphe's exercise of composing the farewell letter is comical and at the same time brutal. He comes across as callous and truly villainous, faking tear stains on the paper. The narrative presents him as a product of his own dissolute life and the society which has allowed him to lead such a life. Therefore, he comes across as natural and not to be judged. Emma reads Rodolphe's letter by an open garret window and in a daze almost throws herself out of it. She is only saved y Charles's voice calling for her (Part II, Chapter 13). Instead, Emma succumbs to brain-fever for 43 days. At the end of her convalescence M. Homais has another brilliant idea that will lead to a disaster: Charles should take Emma to the theatre in Rouen. There they come across Lėon again.