In an ideal world, like the one Emma Bovary yearns for in the book Madame
Bovary, romantic relationships are based on the principle that the two
participants are madly in love with each other. But in the world Gustave Flaubert paints in his book, as in the real world, passion and personal gain are the only reasons people enter into a relationship.
Before meeting Emma, Charles Bovary weds a much older woman. He
“had seen in marriage the advent of an easier life, thinking he would be more
free to do as he liked with himself and his money.”(p. 7) But he also laments
that “his wife was master; he had to say this and not say that in company, to fast
every Friday, dress as she liked, harass at her bidding those patients who did
not pay.”(p. 7) These are clearly not the signs of a loving relationship; indeed, Charles and Madame Dubuc treat marriage as a chore or formality, and not a pleasure.
When Charles takes his second wife, Emma, love is, once again, not
involved. He muses that her father, “old Rouault was rich, and she!-so
beautiful!”(p.15) He knows he will be marrying into a wealthy family, and he will be obtaining a “trophy wife.” As for Emma’s part in the marriage, she has no say whatsoever. She is given to Charles by her father in exchange for a dowry. So, before she is even married, she is already treated like chattel by the men in her life.
Their treatment of her by men lend in part to her misery. The monotony of daily life as well as her own idealistic demeanor lead to her considering taking a lover. Leon, a young villager, catches her fancy and takes an interest in her as well. But she does not give in to her desires, perhaps out of loyalty to her husband, even though she obviously does not love him. In fact, she “detests”(p. 122) Charles. But still, she does not commit adultery with Leon.
Leon certainly does not love Emma. He is merely physically attracted to
her, and is, for lack of a better term, only trying to bed her. After his efforts fail, he decides to move to Paris. He was “weary of loving without any result.”(p. 83) Emma is crushed when he leaves, not out of love realized too late, but out of the realization that her life is once again devoid of excitement.
That is until she meets Rodolphe, a well-to-do type from the suburbs. He is more forceful than Leon, and eventually does make love to Emma. But their
relation is not love either. On Emma’s part, she is just trying to fulfill her
romantic fantasies by taking an extramarital lover like the women in all the
novels she reads. As for Rodolphe, he obviously does not love Emma. Why
else does he decide to leave her when she tries to take their relationship to the next level? And when he writes a “dear Jane letter” to Emma informing her of his leaving, he is forced to fake a tear.
Eventually Leon returns to Madame Bovary’s life after three years apart.How do they celebrate? A romantic dinner at home? A night at the opera? No, they “consummate the relationship” in the back seat of a carriage. Is that the sign of love, or of passion?
Broke and heartbroken, Emma takes her own life. Leon does not mourn,
instead he gets married to another. Rodolphe does not mourn, he in fact denies
her the money that might have saved her life. The only one that does mourn is
Charles, her devoted husband. But for the most part, all he laments about is her beauty. Once he is out of mourning, he sees that he is broke, and promptly dies. The relationships in Madame Bovary are numerous and varied in their reasons, but they all share in common the fact that love was not the driving factor behind them.