Emma Was Too Young For Charles Essay

My Research for Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Portraits of Charles and Emma Darwin by George Richmond (1840). © English Heritage Photo Library/by kind permission of Darwin Heirloom Trust.

Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809-April 19, 1882) is one of the most famous people in the history of the world. Many people also think he was the most important scientist (though of course others argue it was Albert Einstein). In any case, his theory of evolution by natural selection changed the way we think about life forever. Although it does cause controversy in some religious communities, the basics of his theory are accepted as truth in the scientific world. Scientists are constantly adding to his ideas, developing them further, but there is no doubt that the young naturalist from England had it right.

On this site you will find links that will help you explore in much the same way as I did to find the true Charles Darwin. It is not instead of the book, which, of course, you should buy (Indiebound, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble) or take out of your library. But these pages and links will lead you down some interesting paths, I promise.

Start with my publisher’s web page about the book, Macmillan: Charles and Emma. There you will find a description of the book and a

Teacher’s Guide with some thought-provoking questions. (I didn’t make up the Guide; but I think I know the answers…)

Down House (today) © English Heritage Photo Library

How I did my research. I have been to England and visited Down House. I loved to be able to walk in the rooms where Charles and Emma sat and worked. Walking into Charles’s study was amazing and walking on the Sand Walk with my husband and children was a true experience. But when it came time to write the book, I did most of my research right at my desk—with forays to the library for books and more books. I also did a lot of research online because fortunately there are many great Darwin sources on the Web. Both with books and on the internet, I relied most heavily on primary sources.

My “bibles” were:

  • a two-volume set of letters collected by Charles and Emma’s daughter, Henrietta Litchfield. It’s called EMMA DARWIN: A CENTURY OF FAMILY LETTERS. I was lucky enough to be able to take it out of the library at Columbia University, where my husband is a professor. You can go to the public library, perhaps, and find it and browse on your own. Or you can go to Google Books and, because it is so old, find it there. Here is volume 1 of Emma Darwin: A Century of Family Letters and here is volume 2. How cool is that?
  • The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (in various editions). Including this one.
  • Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, which you can find here. Take a look at this entry. Scroll down, or search for the word “saliva.” You’ll recognize it from the book.

Title page, first edition, The Origin of Species. © English Heritage Photo Library

Which brings me to the two web sites I used the most. The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online, which is where the notebooks are, and where you can find-well, pretty much anything Charles Darwin ever wrote (except for his letters, so below). You can also find on these pages pictures of Emma’s diary. I spent a lot of time looking at her diary, looking at the letters each wrote, and piecing together what their daily lives were actually like. I also looked at her diary to see entries for specific days, like the day Annie died, or the day Charles died. You can do that, too, by finding the diary for that year, and paging through to that date. Maybe you want to see what Emma wrote–if anything–on the day one of Charles’s books was published, or the day that one of her children was born. You can also just browse and see notes about school holidays, letters she wrote, and lists of symptoms-hers, Etty’s, Charles’s. Of course I also used this site to look in Charles’s many books and manuscripts. You can find here his early draft on the origin of species by natural selection written that summer at Maer. And also his questionnaire about expression.

This page will lead you to great photographs, a timeline, as well as obituaries and memories of Darwin. Have fun! For my own idiosyncratic time line, click here.

Many of Charles’s letters, and the ones he received, you can find here at the Darwin Correspondence Project. The good people who run the project, and have for many years, are in the process of getting as many of Charles’s 12,000 (about) written or received letters in print and on line. These people there are my heroes. Charles had about 2,000 correspondents in his lifetime and his letters are a treasure trove. I used this site constantly while researching my book and found treasures such as the collection they put together about Darwin’s thoughts about religion.

Here is the letter he wrote to Emma asking her to take care of the publication of his species draft “in case of my sudden death.”

There are many, many wonderful resources on the web about Darwin. In addition to the two above, you should check out these:

Have fun! And remember, as always, to double check any facts you want to use in a paper.

Chapter I

Flaubert begins Part Two by describing the town that Charles and Emma are moving to, Yonville-l'Abbaye. We encounter the Lion d'Or inn, Monsieur Homais's pharmacy, and the graveyard, where the gravedigger, Lestiboudois, grows potatoes. News has gotten around that Charles and Emma are arriving, and the villagers await their arrival. The couple arrive late because Emma's dog escaped during the journey and was not found. In her times of despondency, the dog was one of the few things that could bring Emma happiness of any kind. Therefore, when it abandoned her for its own freedom, she became upset and angry. She arrives in Yonville in a poor mood.

Chapter II

The man with whom Charles has been corresponding in Yonville is Homais, an apothecary who owns the pharmacy. Homais is a pompous man who believes himself well schooled in medicine. He is eager to discuss the trade with Charles. Upon their arrival, Homais joins the Bovarys for dinner at the town inn. Homais's boarder Leon, a young law clerk, is invited to join them for the meal. While they eat, Charles and Homais discuss medicine, and Emma and Leon bond over all that they have in common.

Like Emma, Leon loves romantic novels and often dreams of greater things. Having discovered their similarities, the two sense a closeness and believe they have finally discovered worthy company. When the Bovarys arrive at their new home, Emma has hopes for a fresh new beginning. She thinks maybe her life will finally become what she has always dreamed.

Chapter III

Leon clearly has developed a deep affection for Emma; he cannot get her out of his mind. Meanwhile, Charles's medical practice begins slowly, but he grows very excited about Emma's pregnancy. Emma gives birth to a girl, and she is disappointed because she hoped for a boy. After some discussion, they name the baby Berthe. Charles's parents visit and stay for a month following Berthe's christening. For the first few months, the baby is sent to live with a wet nurse until she is weaned, as per the traditions of the time. At one point, Emma is feeling particularly lonely and decides to visit the baby in order to feel something other than dissatisfaction. During her trip to the nurse's home, Emma feels weak, and when she sees Leon, she asks him to escort her. Because the town is so small and everyone is watched by others, rumors of an affair immediately spread. During her visit, the wet nurse asks for many extra amenities, taking advantage of Emma's visit. After the visit, Emma and Leon walk by the river, each feeling passion and romance for the other.

Chapter IV

Winter has arrived. Charles and Emma often eat with Homais on Sunday evenings. Leon also attends these meals, and during these evenings he and Emma continue to develop their relationship. The two are powerfully attracted to each other, but they do not admit their feelings. Charles is oblivious to this developing relationship, but the villagers are confident that Emma and Leon are already having an affair.

Chapter V

Emma is a careful observer. As she contrasts her husband with other men, she decides he is entirely dull and has nothing to offer. She also realizes that Leon is in love with her. During their next meeting, Emma and Leon both are awkward and anxious. Having discovered the possibility of an affair, Emma grows increasingly nervous and imagines she is a martyr, suffering for her unrequited love. While acting as a caring and dutiful wife, she harbors strong feelings for Leon and punishes herself by not eating. Berthe returns home, having been weaned from the wet nurse, and Emma tries to distract herself with her daughter. But her desire for Leon eventually overcomes her, and she wallows in self-pity. Emma sobs, her frustration overwhelming her, and blames Charles for her unhappiness. Ominously, the shopkeeper Lheureux hints to Emma that he can provide loans, in case she ever needs one.

Chapter VI

Emma hears church bells tolling and decides to return to her religious roots to seek help for her unhappiness and dissatisfaction. But Abbé Bournisien is preoccupied with a group of unruly catechism students, and he does not understand or even perceive Emma's deep emotional pain. After this failed visit, Emma grows extremely frustrated and angry. Back at home, she physically pushes Berthe away, and Berthe falls down and cuts herself. Seeing Berthe bleed shakes Emma out of her wallowing. She tells Charles what happened but claims that Berthe was simply playing--that the fall was an accident. Emma exclaims that she is a terrible mother, but Charles helps calms her down.

Leon decides to study law in Paris. Although he loves Emma, he believes their romance is impossible because she is married, and Yonville bores him anyway. Leon also looks forward to the possibilities of romance and excitement that await him in Paris. When Leon and Emma say their goodbyes, both are awkward and quiet, but they recognize the powerful undercurrent of their mutual feelings. After Leon's departure, Charles and Homais discuss city life, why it is intriguing, and how it can be difficult.


Chapters I-III

In Flaubert's detailed description of the simple, dull town of Yonville, he uses poetic language to compare the area to "a great unfolded mantle with a green velvet cape bordered with a fringe of silver." This romantic description of the simple town is available to readers, but Emma cannot see such beauty there. Thus Flaubert demonstrates how limited Emma's perspective is. Instead of seeing beauty in Yonville, she feels trapped and alone, describing Yonville as "a mongrel land." Emma's kind of romanticism makes her blind to the simple, everyday beauties that surround her.

Leon, who shares her obsession with romance and passion, is Emma's true idealistic counterpart. In truth, however, readers can perceive that Emma and Leon's first dinner conversation is trite and simple. They discuss how books remove them from their everyday lives. Yet, they believe the conversation to be deeply meaningful. This is the first step on the path wherein Leon encourages Emma's romantic hopes and desires, while she begins to develop feelings for him.

Berthe's birth is a disappointment to Emma because she wanted to bear a son. A son would have more opportunities to live out his dreams (and his mother's dreams) than a daughter. Although Emma wants to be free, she recognizes and participates in antifeminist prejudices regarding her own child. Emma, as a woman and a wife, feels trapped by her circumstances, prevented from shaping her own life, although in the novel she will do more than anyone else to shape her own fate. But Emma, at this point, sees only her limitations. She notes, "a man, at least, is free; he can explore all passions and all countries, overcome obstacles, taste of the most distant pleasures. But a woman is always hampered." Upon her daughter's birth, Emma at least hopes she can access glamour vicariously and on her daughter's behalf, but when she realizes she cannot afford to buy expensive clothes or furniture for Berthe, she loses interest in this way of realizing her romantic ideals.

The villagers in Yonville help us understand village life and the status of Emma and Charles in the local social structure. For example, the wet nurse lives in a small hut with the children she nurses, and she is not ashamed to beg Emma for things she cannot afford, including coffee, soap and brandy. Through this example, we see that in comparison to the majority of her local society, Emma is quite well off, even though she is not a member of the aristocracy. Compared with Emma, the village innkeeper is a simple woman with simple concerns, and unlike Emma she accepts her place in life and finds a decent level of enjoyment in her situation.

Chapters IV-VI

Part Two, Chapter IV, ends with Leon's feelings for Emma becoming very clear. Flaubert describes the shame Leon feels in being too shy to proclaim his love for her, and we learn that he has written her many love letters already--only to have torn them up before succumbing to the temptation to give them to her. Leon certainly wishes Emma were not married so he might be able to pursue her and acknowledge his feelings for her. For her part, when Flaubert shifts the narrative back to Emma, she has her own thoughts of love. Emma's vision of love is idealistic just like her other ideals; she believes that it can only "come suddenly, with great outbursts and lightnings,-a hurricane of the skies, which sweeps down on life, upsets everything, uproots the will like a leaf and carries away the heart as in an abyss." Flaubert satirizes Emma's romantic notions by explaining, "She did not know that on the terrace of houses the rain makes lakes when the pipes are choked, and she would thus have remained safe in her ignorance when she suddenly discovered a dent in the wall." Here, Flaubert mocks Emma's fantastical perspective and her refusal to acknowledge, must less accept, her reality. Once again, we confront the ultimate conflict of Emma's life: she longs for unrealistic romanticism and passion, but she is continually frustrated by the realities of life, leaving her fantasies out of her grasp.

To her credit, Emma does try to control her romantic attraction to Leon. To punish herself for her feelings, Emma works to become a dutiful wife and mother, playing the part of a martyr. She does not see the joy that is possible in her present family. In any case, when she injures her daughter after pushing her away in annoyance, all auspices of being a good family woman disappear. Just before pushing her away, Emma looks at her daughter with disgust, as yet another weight in her life, a circumstance that holds her down and prevents her from living out her fantasies. In fact, Emma was not excited to be pregnant from the beginning. Emma simply cannot access what is good about her maternal instinct, and she finds no pleasure in being a wife to Charles or a mother to Berthe. The only thing that prevents Emma from infidelity is Leon's decision to move to Paris.

Homais in his pomposity is developing as a representation of what Flaubert despises about the new bourgeoisie. Moreover, through Emma's conversation with the priest, Flaubert comments on the superficiality of bourgeois religion. At this point, Emma is in serious need of assistance and realizes that she needs help; she thinks she has nowhere else to turn. She is entirely unsatisfied with her life and has turned to her priest in a final attempt to save her from herself. But the Abbé Bournisien is preoccupied with the simple rowdiness of his students, and he does not give Emma's concerns or plea for assistance any serious thought. While Emma might have come at a better time, it seems that the Abbé would not have been able to understand her concerns anyway. When Emma explains that she is suffering, the Abbé believes she is referring to the summer heat. This failed interaction is an implicit criticism of the superficiality of the church at this time, implying that it responds primarily to rowdy disturbances and superficial needs.

From a literary point of view, we can see Flaubert's innovative narrative technique developing. In contrast with many of his contemporaries, Flaubert matches his prose to his narrative subject quite consistently. For instance, during descriptions of Emma's boredom, the text slows considerably; it seems to take longer to read. When she is excited and engaged in life, the pace quickens dramatically.

Finally, of course, when Lheureux hints to Emma that he is a moneylender, we detect foreshadowing of her eventual downfall due to excessive debt and, in particular, the role of Lheureux in the process.

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