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Bouvard and Pecuchet (Classics) [Paperback]

Gustave Flaubert , A. J. Krailsheimer
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Mar 1976 Classics
Bouvard and Pecuchet are two Chaplinesque copy-clerks who meet on a park bench in Paris. Following an unexpected inheritence, they decide to give up their jobs and explore the world of ideas.

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Bouvard and Pecuchet (Classics) + A Sentimental Education: The story of a Young Man (Oxford World's Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; Reprint edition (25 Mar 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140443207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140443202
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 370,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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WITH the temperature up in the nineties, the Boulevard Bourdon was absolutely deserted. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lost classic 15 Oct 2009
By H. Tee
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is undoubtedly an intriguing book and probably not something you'll have read before. It is the incomplete and final novel of Gustave Flaubert famous for Madame Bovary and others. The book includes at the end Flaubert's dictionary of ideas - this is really a separate section unrelated to the story so I won't dwell on it, interesting though it is.

It is the story of two middle aged guys who on meeting discover they share the same profession (copyists) and quickly form a great friendship. A sudden and expected inheritance allows them to sample the intellectual delights of the (French) world. It has ten chapters and each has a different basis for example: farming, literature, history, philosophy, religion and politics. Their behaviour and ineptitude causes problems with the locals and staff. It is an intellectual comedy of errors as nothing goes right despite their efforts and there are some humourous episodes which include Pecuchet loosing his virginity, them failing to educate two orphan kids and some phrenology etc.

The book is a sort of mixture of Don Quixote and an 1880s encyclopaedia. This means it's incredible detailed and offers much to learn about what was current back then. You'll discover amongst other things new authors, proofs for God and how to prune fruit trees.

You may be concerned, like me, about starting an incomplete book - I'd have to admit it does seem to almost stop mid-paragraph but the book immediately includes Flaubert's plan of how the book was to finish, so at least you'll know how it was to end. To be clear, it being unfinished does not detract at all from the story or content.

I've read M Bovary, Sentimental Education and Salammbo and would rate Salammbo the absolute best with B&P a close second. Overall this is worth a read especially if you're looking for a new angle in classic literature.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bouvard and Pecuchet 4 Dec 2009
Bouvard and Pecuchet is Flaubert's intellectual Laurel and Hardy story. A masterpiece of a book he prophetically claimed would be the death of him. He read 1500 books to write it and it shows. It is one of the semilnal works of the 'modern movement' carried on by Joyce, Becket, DH Lawrence and Henry James etc. It has also been claimed, by Michael Foucault, as a sequel to, The Temptation of St. Anthony. One a saint of stasis and observation, nursing his bible and the other two of action, immersed in life, canonized for their self realization and dedication to preserving the meaning of words, all words, by exposing the lazy life denying quality of cleché usage. The story concludes with the writing of, The Dictionary of Received Ideas, Flaubert's cleché defining polemic.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sharp satire, fuzzy edition 10 Oct 2001
By Mark Scroggins - Published on
Bouvard and Pecuchet is one of the funniest books ever written, and remains every bit as telling in its attack on bourgeoise society as when it was first published. The "Dictionary of Received Ideas," which is included in this edition, is sort of a "Devil's Dictionary" of middle-class stupidities; astonishingly, almost all of its satirical bite still holds true. I dock this Penguin edition one star because it doesn't have any notes, which would have made Flaubert's nineteenth-century context far more easily graspable.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Odd but interesting book 3 Dec 2005
By magellan - Published on
Flaubert supposedly read something like 1000 books to do the research for this novel and apparently had an almost photographic memory. Bouvard and Pecuchet proceed to plow through the entire corpus of human knowledge, ostensibly to become more learned and true Renaissance men, now that they are men of leisure.

You'd think this would seem a laudable goal for a French intellectual like Flaubert, but he seems to be make fun of such superficial or perhaps self-educated learning, and perhaps of human knowledge in general. Flaubert seems to presage the 20th century's weariness with arid and purely ivory-tower scholarship that perhaps has led to the anti-science sentiments we see today, the rise of fuzzy-minded, muddy, and fallacious philosophies like New Age, and perhaps even movements like Creationism's antipathy toward evolution and Darwin.

Perhaps to Flaubert, since there is no end to learning, and all human knowledge, or at least an individual human's learning is finite, there are no real truths and all knowledge is essentially relative and inconstant and incomplete. Certainly Bouvard and Pecuchet's projects are always doomed to failure and are never completed.

I'm not sure what else in the way of profound meaning I can glean from this book, but it does seem to sound a cautionary warning or perhaps cynical note on the dangers of superficial learning or perhaps even too much learning. Perhaps Flaubert is also saying life is not something to observe and analyze, but to experience instead. That would be consistent with the beliefs of the Realists, since the French Realist authors like him pioneered the idea of intensively observing and researching the common people and the dregs of society that they often wrote about, as in Zola's Nana, for example, who was a prostitute.
27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for the 80's generation-disco desperates 30 Dec 1997
By - Published on
Although he never finished this book, it remains even in translation, a perfect guide to the perils of bourgeois ambitions. Two hapless bank clerks use a sudden inheritance to dabble disastrously in all the current fashions, with hilarious and mordant results. Includes a "dictionary of received ideas" which should be required reading for all Americans. I read it at least once a year, out loud, and am much the better for the release. Buy it for everyone you know, and see if you can then watch Jimmy Stewart or Martha Stewart without throwing up.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bouvard and Pecuchet & the Dictionary of Accepted Ideas 13 May 2010
By jondereach - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brilliant. Prescient. Hilarious. Flaubert in the full flower of genius. That it was unfinished would not be evident if you weren't told. A must read for anyone. The two characters,Bouvard and Pecuchet, get a lot of money,buy books on wildly diverse subjects, read them and are convinced they are now experts. They put their new found 'expertise' to work in the real world and succeed in making a mess of everything around them- in the funniest ways imaginable. But they are not daunted by their failures. No, they do the same thing again while expecting different results. They seem to personify the trend that had its beginning around Flaubert's time and has grown into the internet with everyone his or her own expert. Filled with information but no knowledge. The Dictionary reads as true now as it did then-"see Paris and die." Profoundly funny.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece of Comedy 2 Nov 2008
By Billyjack D'Urberville - Published on
As Flaubert aged, his books become broader comedy and this is the limit. Two petit French beurocrats, as indistinquishable as Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, take early retirement in the country and decide to study all human knowledge. In Madame Bovary, traveling libraries add to the central figure's pretension and lead to her tragic downfall. Here, simply, the older and mellower Flaubert presents endless comedy -- and while Flaubert did not finish the book, doubtless it could only continue in the same vein. Mediocrity of mind and spirit cannot be cured by simply pouring in "facts" or trivial, amateurish experience, the reader is told, by one example after the next, and never by preaching as in Tolstoy. And Bouvard and Pecuchet have no teachers -- only the audacity to assume that all worth knowing is simply open to them by the act of reading. In any event, the real end of the book was finished -- "the dictionary of accepted ideas" -- which to these uninspired clowns seems the summit of all human wisdom.

Will droll, and vastly understated, the humor is only the more scathing when finally revealed, often in a scene reminiscent of Chaplin or silent comedy. Encountering this Flaubert masterpiece is greatly helped by a dead on translation that is pithy and precise, worthily replicating Flaubert's famous search for "the right word" in all his books. Even the drollest, plainest sentences resonate with humor -- never, incidentally, hateful or spiteful, but just sadly wise.
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