CHAPTER 8: Enter Monsieur Rodolphe
It was not until the day after Leon’s departure that the gloom settled in. The sable(1) smoke enveloped her very being, so that she was left to see in darkness. Which was all very well, as there was nothing beautiful left to see. To her muted mind, it seemed as though even the wind shrieked in sympathy with her (or perhaps, to the more reasonable, with her poor husband, who barely noticed a difference).
As she walked through the gardens, peered out the window, even sat in the dining room, all that she could see were visions of Leon. Oh! What a cretin(2) she had been. She should have seized the opportunity of love at first sight–
But what a foolish thing that would have been. Yet it was still months before the fires in her heart subsided.
And then? There was nothing but remnants(3) of burnt ashes, shunned and spurned by growls of the ravenous winter wind. She fell through weeks of a grief that had no end.
Emma resorted to the most profligate(4) of extravagances to distract herself. She learned of a hairstyle that only the Empress of China had been known to wear hundreds of years back. She scoured through the magazines and catalogs to find a hairpiece of gold and jade and not finding either, she temporarily wondered if it might not be better to simply purchase a white one and color gold and jade on. It was not as though the townspeople would be able to tell the difference.
When this proved true, she retreated. In the far reaches of their kitchen’s cabinets, there were some old bottles of liquor. Once, she drank a few sips of them when Charles was around and he immediately ran to her side, worrying and fussing. She simply turned her head and spitted out the ignominious(5) liquid.
At night – and during the day too – Charles hid in his study and weeps. He turned to his beloved (mother) for advice.
“She needs work,” his mother exhorted(6), not too gently. “Something to occupy her idle mind would do both of you well.”
“Ah, but she is too busy for work?”
“Engrossed(7) with reading? Reading novels that spurn religion, illustrating it as a joke? My poor child, a man without religion cannot be good.”
So it was decided that Emma was to stop reading novels. The next time she passed through Rouen, she was to cancel her subscription at the lending-library. Any subsequent exchanges between mother and daughter-in-law were lugubrious(8).
Madame Bovary left on a Wednesday, the market-day at Yonville. The Place was filled with rows of carts and canvas booths, where straw surrounded the path. Hens clucked through their steel cages and Emma leaned out of her own, only to see a man who walked with a pensive mien(9).
A gentleman with a green velvet coat stood amidst drunkards. “Can I see the doctor?” he asked Justin. “Tell him that Monsieur Rodolphe Boulanger of La Huchette is here.” La Huchette was an estate near Yonville. He was a bachelor and was once said to have been making “at least fifteen thousand francs a year.”
When Charles entered, Monsieur Boulanger remarked that he wanted to be bled. When the preparations had been made, he held out his arm with a great air of aplomb(10). At a single prick, blood spurted.
“Hold the basin nearer,” exclaimed Charles. Justin was turning pale and the peasant often let the tools slip in his fright. Even Charles was growing emotional, but Monsieur Boulanger remained quiet and stoic(11).
“Emma! Em–” But she was already downstairs. Pouring vinegar onto her handkerchief, she dabbed his temples and blew upon them to dry. Her yellow dress fit her tightly.
Shortly afterwards, the chemist had arrived to reprimand Justin. Viewing Madame, he remarked how prodigious(12) it was for a lady like her to never have fainted.
“It was a pleasure to have made of your acquaintance,” Monsieur Boulanger said, looking at Emma. He then dismissed himself. In the meadow, on his walk back home, he wondered where in the world such a fat, ugly doctor had found so pretty of a wife.
“She must be tired of him,” he reflected. “She would surely love to live in town. She would be winsome(13) for a night, but how to get rid of her afterwards?” Then again, she was much less plump than his current mistress. Undressing her in his mind, he exclaimed, “I will have her!
There’s an agricultural show coming soon, and I will see her there.”
Perhaps, in other towns, there were balls and mansions and ladies with the most resplendent(14) of dresses and even men with manners. But in this sleepy town, there was the agricultural show – and it was everything.
The tent had become transformed into a banquet hall, the empty Place into a platform for prices, and they had even recruited the National Guard of a (very very) distant and reticent(15) town. As soon as they flooded into the streets, people stood stiffly, wearing black and blue smocks to fit the mood, and even the farmers’ wives were wearing handkerchiefs between their teeth. They stood in front of four columns: commerce, agriculture, industry, and fine arts.
Only Madame Lefrancois, the innkeeper, looked angry. She spurned the townspeople, as though they were vagabonds(16). But then she saw Homais.
“You too are going down there?” She spoke contemptuously(17).
He continued walking onwards. “Though I usually live like a recluse, I must realize the circumstances – you too – of this momentous occasion–” He stopped, and smiled. “And I am a member of the consulting commission, of course.”
“You’re a chemist!”
“Agriculture is chemistry, is it not? The composition of the soil, the boiling and cooling of liquids, the diet of the animals–” But he stopped once more, as she was no longer listening to him, and turned, only to see Madame Bovary, who was holding the hand of Monsieur Boulanger. Rodolphe, having seen the druggist, hurried quicker. “We must get away from that fat fellow.”
He looked at her, smiling, though she looked straight ahead, a visage of utmost sangfroid(18). Is she mocking me? He wondered. There was much more to this woman than he had thought (or hoped for).
Once they reached the farrier’s house, they had lost him – and then, she laughed. “How you got rid of him!”
“Why should we – I blessed with your company -” she blushed at this, “-let someone else intrude?”
Walking slowly through the daisies, he talked of the weather. “Shall I pick some daisies?”
She coughed, and turned her head slightly away. “Are you in love?”
In town, there was none of that silence. Pigs buried their noses into the ground, and men ran about, chasing children and small animals. When Emma and Rodolphe re-entered, they were speaking of the townspeople-or rather, jeering of them. “When one lives in such a place–”
“–it’s a waste of time–”
“–to wear nice coats. I too, like you, am depressed.” They had spoken earlier of provincial mediocrity(19), of the death of dreams in the country.
“I have learned to hide my pain with a mask.”
Smiling slightly, she wondered aloud, “Yet it seems to me that I should not pity you. You are free, rich–” A cannon sounded.
But it was only a false alarm. The jury had rung it too early in their anticipation. Finally, a carriage came trotting up to the center of the Place. There were shouts, the guns were lowered…only for a fat man to exit and sadly announce that the prefect would not be joining them. The crowd exchanged looks of despair and humiliation. At last, the councillor stood. “Gentlemen! Addressing you on this most honorable day, may I first pay tribute to our beloved king. When there is chaos, he brings peace. Our industry and arts and religion are flourishing from his efforts!”
“I should leave,” Rodolphe said. “These are lies, it would not do my reputation good to be here.”
“We poor women cannot have even this distraction?”
“This is a poor distraction.”
“It will come one day, a distraction that you would sacrifice yourself for.” (And he looked at her.)
“A treasure before you, bringing you from the darkness of life into the light.”
The councillor exclaimed: “It is our duty–”
“I am sick of that word,” Rodolphe exclaimed.
“Passions can be perilous(20),” Emma remarked. “We must bow to the moral code.”
“Are not passions the only thing worth living for?”
While Emma and Rodolphe spoke in whispers, the rest of the crowd watched the councillor, mouths agape, drinking in his words as though they were those of God. “It is the agriculturist who has kept us alive, during these hard years.”
“He disgusts me.”
When he looked at her, she felt faint, recalling waltzes and citron. In her mind, the past was all too clear-Leon had entered her life and then had gone forever, but it seemed that he was still here.
As the next speech began, it spoke of civilization and labor. All the while, Rodolphe and Madame Bovary spoke of dreams, and somehow, some way, they came to be holding hands. The prizes of a hundred francs were given to farmers who did not know what to do with them.
When the meeting was over, the crowd soon dispersed, and the animals were shoved back into their stalls. Rodolphe escorted Madame Bovary home so that she might prepare for the banquet. If the ceremony earlier in the day had at least the pretense of formality, all was lost during the feast. Each guest ate to their full content, noisy and sweaty. Rodolphe saw Emma again, but this time, she was with her husband.
1/sable(adj): a dark black color, often thought to bring bad luck
2/cretin(n): a derogatory term describing someone is mentally disabled; a fool; an idiot
3/remnant(n): the remaining piece of something, whether it be a feeling or a food
4/profligate(adj): recklessly extravagant or wasteful in the use of resources
5/ignominious(adj): deserving or causing public disgrace or shame
6/exhort(v): strongly encourage or urge (someone) to do something
7/engross(v): absorb all the attention or interest of
8/lugubrious(adj): looking or sounding sad and dismal
9/mien(n): a person’s look or manner, especially one of a particular kind indicating their character or mood
10/aplomb(n): self-confidence or assurance, especially when in a demanding situation
11/stoic(n): a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining
12/prodigious(adj): remarkably or impressively great in extent, size, or degree
13/winsome(adj): attractive or appealing in appearance or character
14/resplendent(adj): attractive and impressive through being richly colorful or sumptuous
15/reticent(adj): not revealing one’s thoughts or feelings readily
16/vagabond(n): a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job
17/contemptuously(adv): in a scornful way that shows disdain
18/sangfroid(n): cool, containing and masking the passions within; composure or coolness, sometimes excessive, as shown in danger or under trying circumstances
19/mediocrity(n): a state of complete and utter averageness, leading to boredom
20/perilous(adj): describing an action with the utmost danger and uncertainty; dangerous, potentially unwise