“As Charles was giving the harness a final check he noticed something on the ground between the horse’s legs; he picked up a cigar case edged with green silk which had a coat of arms in the middle, like on a carriage door.This is the 1st time Flaubert uses the motif of the cigar case in Madame Bovary. It is after the Marquise’s ball.
‘There are even 2 cigars in it,’ he said. ‘They’ll do for this evening after dinner.” (P.1, ch.8)
“Snatching up the cigar case, Emma threw it at the back of the armoire.” (ibid.)It is only a cigar case, but to Emma, it becomes a symbol.
“When Charles was out, she would often take the green silk cigar case from among the folded linen in the cupboard where she had put it.Flaubert, like Jane Austen, is a master of the free indirect speech. Such a short passage is enough to reveal the ennui, sentimentality, and melodramatic tendencies in Emma Bovary. To someone else, a cigar case is a cigar case is a cigar case. To Emma, she imagines that it belongs to the Vicomte and comes from a mistress, and attaches meaning to it.
She would look at it, open it, even sniff the scent of its lining, a mixture of vervain and tobacco. Whom did it belong to?... To the Vicomte. Perhaps it was a present from his mistress. It had been worked on some rosewood embroidery frame, a pretty little possession that was kept hidden from prying eyes, and had taken many long hours, with the soft curls of the musing female head bent over it. A breath of love had blown through the fine net of the canvas; every stitch of the needle had woven a hope or memory into it, and the intertwined silk threads were all inseparable from that same silent passion. And then one morning the Vicomte had taken it with him.” (P.1, ch.9)
This moment, after the Marquise’s ball, is when Emma becomes disillusioned, regrets her marriage, and dreams of a life of luxury, excitement, and passion that her husband cannot provide. This is also when she starts betraying Charles, for Emma betrays him and their marriage long before she has sex with Rodolphe.
In the structure of the novel, the cigar case becomes part of a pattern. But it’s not the only one. Look at this passage:
“The conversation flagged, Madame Bovary kept breaking off every few minutes, while he seemed rooted in self-consciousness. Sitting in a low chair by the fire he turned an ivory cigarette case round in his fingers; she carried on with her sewing…” (P.2, ch.5)A cigarette case appears in this moment, around the time Emma realises she and Léon are in love (well, that’s what she thinks—I think they just want to bang).
Later on, there’s another cigarette case, when Rodolphe enters the story.
“… At this the peasant dropped the cigarette case he was holding.” (P.2, ch.7)In this scene, Emma doesn’t feel anything yet, but on Rodolphe’s side, the 1st time they meet, he already wants sex with her. And they would become lovers.
“As well as the whip with a silver gilt handle, Rodolphe had been given a seal with the motto: Amor nel cor, plus a muffler and a cigar case exactly like the Vicomte’s that Charles had picked up on the road years ago, and which Emma had kept.” (P.2, ch.2)As Rodolphe becomes Emma’s lover and therefore the embodiment and subject of her fantasies, she gives him a copy of the green silk cigar case.
In short, Flaubert creates a motif of a cigar or cigarette case to link with the 3 men whom Emma fantasises about and/or cheats on Charles with.
Interestingly, the passages in this blog post come from the copy I’m reading, translated by Christopher Moncrieff. In the Eleanor Marx-Aveling translation, Léon plays with a thimble-case, and Rodolphe’s peasant drops a lancet-case. Can anyone who reads French please check? But even if the Moncrieff’s translation is inaccurate and the cases of Léon and the peasant have no meaning, the original green silk cigar case and the one Emma gives Rodolphe are still part of an important pattern.