One day, Charles visits a local farm to set the owner's broken leg, and meets his client's daughter, Emma Rouault. Emma is a beautiful, daintily dressed young woman who has received a "good education" in a convent and who has a latent but powerful yearning for luxury and romance imbibed from the popular novels she has read. Charles is immediately attracted to her, and begins checking on his patient far more often than necessary until Heloise's jealousy puts a stop to the visits. When Heloise dies, Charles waits a decent interval then begins courting Emma in earnest. Her father gives his consent, and Emma and Charles are married. At this point, the novel begins to focus on Emma. Charles means well, but is boring and clumsy, and after he and Emma attend a ball given by the Marquis d'Andervilliers, Emma grows disillusioned with married life and becomes dull and listless. Charles consequently decides that his wife needs a change of scenery, and moves from the village of Tostes into a larger, but equally stultifying market town, Yonville (traditionally based on the town of Ry). Here, Emma gives birth to a daughter, Berthe; however, motherhood, too, proves to be a disappointment to Emma. She then becomes infatuated with one of the first intelligent young men she meets in Yonville, a young law student, Léon Dupuis, who seems to share her appreciation for "the finer things in life", and who returns her admiration. Out of fear and shame, however, Emma hides her love for Léon and her contempt for Charles, and plays the role of the devoted wife and mother, all the while consoling herself with thoughts and self-congratulations for her own virtue. Finally, in despair of ever gaining Emma's affection, Léon departs to study in Paris.
Glenda Jackson hits the mark in this superb narration of Flaubert's classic novel. Her reading perfectly captures the restlessness of Emma Bovary, a character perpetually dissatisfied with her solid, steady husband and bourgeois life in provincial 19th-century France. Emma's unrealistic dreams (she yearns for a perfect, romantic love that will sweep her away into perpetual bliss) lead her into one affair after another, and then to financial ruin and suicide. Jackson is especially outstanding in the scene which takes place the night before Emma plans to run off with her lover, Rudolf. To Rudolf, Emma is just one in a long series of conquests, and he gets cold feet at the thought of being permanently responsible for her welfare and that of her child. In a swoony, sighing voice full of noble suffering, Jackson reads his flowery letter of tears and regret, saying he loves her too much to ruin her life and her reputation. Then, without missing a beat, she switches to smug, cynical satisfaction, as Rudolf admires the letter and congratulates himself on his close escape.