Bouvard and Pecuchet (Classics) Paperback – 25 Mar 1976
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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; Salammbo (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 Pecuchet, 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 Rance, Abbot of La Trappe (1974), Pascal (1980), Conversion (1980), Letters of A. J. de Rance (1984), Rance and the Trappist Legacy (1985) and Correspondance de Rance (1993). He has also translated Flaubert s Bouvard and Pecuchet and Salammbo and Pascal s The Provincial Letters for the Penguin Classics."
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.