Madame Bovary Part One Chapters 1-3 Summary

     Madame Bovary opens with a description of Charles Bovary as a child. He is the newest student at school. The author describes, at length, the cap that Charles and his classmates wore. It was egg-shaped with gold detail and all the students would toss them under a bench upon entering the classroom. Charles was immediately teased for his inability or unwillingness to participate in the practice. Charles' classmates did not know if he is too shy to do so or if he simply did not observe that this was the thing to do.

     Charles, a shy boy, had difficulty introducing himself to the teacher. He answers too quietly for the teacher to hear until finally shouting "Charbovari!" by way of introduction. He was mocked for this, as well. He is asked to do work. His classmates shoot spitballs at him, but he simply wipes them off his face with his arm.

     His late start to school may have contributed to his cluelessness and shyness. His parents waited as long as they could to send him to school in order to save money. Instead, he occasionally received a lesson in Latin from the priest in town. His father, Monsieur Charles-Denis-Bartholome Bovary was forced to leave the army in 1812 and married his wife for her dowry. He subsisted on this income for only a few years. Charles Sr. was not a particularly pleasant or devoted man; he spent too much time and money on prostitutes and alcohol.

     Charles' mother, a hosier's daughter referred to as "Madame Bovary," was initially very agreeable toward her husband. He was a handsome man and she showed her affection to him freely. However, she slowly became less enamored with him as his poor financial skills and disinterest in fidelity became apparent. She was disappointed by his late nights spent with prostitutes and bars and became somewhat bitter and nagging. Instead of doting on her husband, Madame Bovary began to spoil her child, Charles.

     Despite Charles' average grades and unremarkable abilities, his parents put him in medical school during his sophomore year. His mother made all the arrangements for his room and board and sent him a roast by stagecoach each week to spare him the expense. Charles eventually graduated, despite having initially failed the examination. He moved to Tostes and his mother negotiated a marriage to the wealthy Heloise Dubuc, a thin, pimply widow of 45 who was always very suspicious and exceedingly needy.

     One night, Charles and his wife were awoken by a messenger with a letter regarding an accident at a farm about 15 miles away. The doctor was summoned to mend a broken leg. The farm, called Les Berteaux, was run by a fat, middle-aged man named Monsieur Rouault and his lovely daughter, Emma. The daughter is described with detail. Charles noticed that there were three flounces on her wool dress. She has very white, almond-shaped fingernails, brown eyes, and dark hair.

     Monsieur Rouault heals well and owes this to his caregiver. Charles, however, visits more frequently than is necessary to check the farmer's progress. He doesn't think about why. His wife, learning that Monsieur has a daughter, becomes extremely jealous and instantly hates the "city girl." Her accusations toward Charles become more and more pointed until she eventually forbids her husband from going back to the farm, going so far as to make him swear on a prayer book. Charles complies.

     Shortly thereafter, Heloise's accountant disappears with all of his clients' money. It soon comes to light that she was not as wealthy as Charles and his parents had been led to believe. Horrified, Charles' wife begs him to defend her against his parents. A week after this, she coughs up some blood while hanging laundry to dry. The next day she dies.

     After his wife's death, Charles is in mourning. He enjoys the independence of being a widow, but feels sorrowful when he thinks of how much Heloise loved him. When Monsieur Rouault visits Charles to pay his condolences and settle his medical bill, Charles realizes that he is free to visit Les Bertaux again.

     He does so and he and Emma converse about her life at the boarding school that she attended before her mother died, her dizzy spells, and her boredom with country life. She shows him her trinkets and asks if bathing in the sea would ease her dizziness. On his way home that night, Charles wonders what will happen to her. He believes her to be somewhat wealthy and very pretty and thinks that she will probably marry well.

     He thinks of their conversations and decides to propose to the girl at the next opportunity. The farmer, who anticipated this request, accepts. They begin to plan their wedding. The farmer eschews his daughter's romantic suggestion that they be married at midnight by torchlight. Instead, Charles and Emma will be married at a traditional wedding after a sufficient period of mourning.

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