In an act of staggering restraint, Flaubert confines his original mind to the unoriginal exploits of two professional copyists who embody the banality of bourgeois life even more consummately than Emma Bovary does. If this strange encyclopedia of lame ideas, derivative dreams and flopped attempts doesn't make you fall out of your seat laughing, I will wear black to curse the reign of averageness and mourn the death of irony in America.
Bouvard and Pécuchet are two Chaplinesque copy-clerks who meet on a park bench in Paris. Following an unexpected inheritance, they decide to give up their jobs and explore the world of ideas.
In this, his last novel, unfinished on his death in 1880, Flaubert attempted to encompass his lifelong preoccupation with bourgeois stupidity and his disgust at the banalities of intellectual life in France. Into it he poured all his love of detail, his delight in the life of the mind, his despair of human nature, and his pleasure in passionate friendship. The result is “a kind of encyclopedia made into farce,” wholly grotesque and wholly original, in the spirit of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Don Quixote or Ulysses.
About the Author
Gustave Flaubert was born in Rouen in 1821, the son of a prominent physician. A solitary child, he was attracted to literature at an early age, and after his recovery from a nervous breakdown suffered while a law student, he turned his total energies to writing. Aside from journeys to the Near East, Greece, Italy, and North Africa, and a stormy liaison with the poetess Louise Colet, his life was dedicated to the practice of his art. The form of his work was marked by intense aesthetic scrupulousness and passionate pursuit of le mot juste; its content alternately reflected scorn for French bourgeois society and a romantic taste for exotic historical subject matter. The success of Madame Bovary (1857) was ensured by government prosecution for “immorality”; Salammbô (1862) and The Sentimental Education (1869) received a cool public reception; not until the publication of Three Tales (1877) was his genius popularly acknowledged. Among fellow writers, however, his reputation was supreme. His circle of friends included Turgenev and the Goncourt brothers, while the young Guy de Maupassant underwent an arduous literary apprenticeship under his direction. Increasing personal isolation and financial insecurity troubled his last years. His final bitterness and disillusion were vividly evidenced in the savagely satiric Bouvard and Pécuchet, left unfinished at his death in 1880.
Dr. A.J. Krailsheimer was born in 1921 and was Tutor in French at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1957 until his retirement in 1988. His publications are Studies in Self-Interest (1963), Rabelais and the Franciscans (1965), Three Conteurs of the Sixteenth Century (1966), Rabelais (1967), A. J. de Rancé, Abbot of La Trappe (1974), Pascal (1980), Conversion (1980), Letters of A. J. de Rancé (1984), Rancé and the Trappist Legacy (1985) and Correspondance de Rancé (1993). He has also translated Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet and Salammbo and Pascal’s The Provincial Letters for the Penguin Classics.