In this version novelist Flaubert during his trial describes his novel about a woman who commits adultery.
In 1857 Gustave Flaubert (James Mason) is on trial for writing a novel about adultery. When Emma (Jennifer Jones) is twenty, Dr. Charles Bovary (Van Heflin) meets her while treating her father. Emma went to a convent school. She reads novels about love, works on the farm, and imagines. Charles plans a villa and asks her to marry. He takes her away from a crude wedding party.
Leon Dupuis (Christopher Kent) welcomes them to the village. With his help Emma redecorates the house. Charles treats the Marquis D'Andervilliers (Paul Cavanagh), and Emma gets upset when he leaves. She wants a son but gives birth to a girl.
Emma is bored. In a new gown she and Charles attend the Marquis' ball. She dances, and he drinks. Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan) waltzes with Emma. When Charles cuts in, she runs out. Emma receives Leon in her room, and he kisses her. His mother arrives and says Leon is going to Paris.
At an agriculture fair Emma talks with Rodolphe, and they kiss. Emma asks the druggist Homais (Gene Lockhart) to help Charles to do a new operation to win honor. Charles tells her he is not a surgeon. To win her love he is to operate on a club foot, but he changes his mind. Emma goes riding with Rodolphe and comes home late. She bought a horse. Emma tells Rodolphe she wants to clean up his house. He says he loves her and burns his letters from women.
Emma's girl is used to the servant and cries when Emma holds her. Emma asks Rodolphe to take her away. She orders two trunks and clothes, and Lheureux (Frank Allenby) makes her pay double because of her secret debt. At night the coach drives past her. Emma gets a letter that Rodolphe went to Italy. She tries to jump out the window. Charles stops her and burns the letter.
Charles takes Emma to the opera, and Leon is there. They missed the third act, and Charles lets Emma stay over. In a hotel she quarrels with Leon. Then they kiss. Emma learns that Charles' father died. Lheureux asks her to sell his estate to pay her bills. She tells Leon that she got power of attorney. Leon works for a lawyer and is reprimanded. Leon gives Emma the papers back because the estate is worthless. Lheureux calls on Emma and says he sold her bills to Guillaumin (Henri Letondal). She goes to Guillaumin, and he says her property may be sold. He tries to kiss her.
Emma asks Leon for 15,000 francs. He admits he lied and says he is only a clerk. The Bovary property is to be auctioned. Emma goes to Rodolphe and forgives him. He admits he was afraid that she would destroy him. She says she needs money, but he says he doesn't have it. Emma steals poison. Charles asks about the auction, and Homais says she took arsenic. Charles takes care of her, but she feels pain. A priest gives her extreme unction to forgive her sins. Flaubert says Emma's story has truth, which lasts forever. He is acquitted.
This drama portrays mid-19th century French society and
suggests that the imagination of novels may cause conflicts and
personal problems when people let their desires outpace their
sense of responsibility.