Bouvard and Pecuchet

Classic French Literature

Bouvard and Pecuchet

Chapter I. KINDRED SOULS. As there were thirty-three degrees of heat the Boulevard Bourdon was absolutely deserted. Farther down, the Canal St. Martin, confined by two locks, showed in a straight line its water black as ink. In the middle of it was a boat, filled with timber, and on the bank were two rows of casks. Beyond the canal, between the houses which separated the timber-yards, the great pure sky was cut up into plates of ultramarine; and under the reverberating light of the sun, the white façades, the slate roofs, and the granite wharves glowed dazzlingly. In the distance arose a confused noise in the warm atmosphere; and the idleness of Sunday, as well as the melancholy engendered by the summer heat, seemed to shed around a universal languor. Two men made their appearance. One came from the direction of the Bastille; the other from that of the Jardin des Plantes. The taller of the pair, arrayed in linen cloth, walked with his hat back, his waistcoat unbuttoned, and his cravat in his hand. The smaller, whose form was covered with a maroon frock-coat, wore a cap with a pointed peak.

Bouvard and Pécuchet

Bouvard and Pécuchet

Nowhere do Flaubert's explorations of the relation of signs to the objects they signify reach a more thorough study than in this work. Bouvard and Pécuchet systematically confuse signs and symbols with reality, an assumption that causes them much suffering, as it does for Emma Bovary and Frédéric Moreau. Yet here, due to the explicit focus on books and knowledge, Flaubert's ideas reach a climax. Consequently, the book is widely read as a precursor to modern theories on semiotics and postmodernism. The relentless failure of Bouvard and Pécuchet to learn anything from their adventures raises the question of what is knowable. Whenever they achieve some small measure of success (a rare occurrence), it is the result of unknown external forces beyond their comprehension. In this sense, they strongly resemble Antony in The Temptation of St. Anthony, a work which addresses similar epistemological themes as they relate to classical literature. Lionel Trilling wrote that the novel expresses a belief in the alienation of human thought from human experience. The worldview that emerges from the work, one of human beings proceeding relentlessly forward without comprehending the results of their actions or the processes of the world around them, does not seem an optimistic one. But given that Bouvard and Pécuchet do gain some comprehension of humanity's ignorant state (as demonstrated by their composition of the Dictionary of Received Ideas), it could be argued that Flaubert allows for the possibility of relative enlightenment.

BOUVARD & PÉCUCHET

A Satirical Novel (From the prolific French author of Madame Bovary, Three Tales, November and A Simple Heart)

BOUVARD & PÉCUCHET

Bouvard et Pécuchet details the adventures of two Parisian copy-clerks, François Denys Bartholomée Bouvard and Juste Romain Cyrille Pécuchet, of the same age and nearly identical temperament. They meet one hot summer day in 1838 by the canal Saint-Martin and form an instant, symbiotic friendship. The work resembles the earlier Sentimental Education in that the plot structure is episodic, giving it a picaresque quality. Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was an influential French writer who was perhaps the leading exponent of literary realism of his country. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary and for his scrupulous devotion to his style and aesthetics. The celebrated short story writer Maupassant was a protégé of Flaubert.

Bouvard and Pécuchet (包法利夫人)

Bouvard and Pécuchet (包法利夫人)

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Bouvard and Pecuchet

Bouvard and Pecuchet

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was a French writer who is counted among the greatest Western novelists. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary (1857), and for his scrupulous devotion to his art and style, best exemplified by his endless search for "le mot juste" ("the precise word"). In September 1849, Flaubert completed the first version of a novel, The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Drawing on his childhood experiences, Flaubert next wrote L'Education Sentimentale (Sentimental Education), an effort that took seven years. It was his last complete novel, published in 1869. He devoted much of his time to an ongoing project, Les Deux Cloportes (The Two Woodlice), which later became Bouvard et Pecuchet (1881) breaking from the obsessive project only to write the Three Tales in 1877. This book comprised three stories: Un Coeur Simple (A Simple Heart), La Legende de Saint-Julien l'Hospitalier (The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller), and Herodias (Herodias). As a writer, Flaubert was nearly equal parts romantic, realist, and pure stylist. Hence, members of various schools, especially realists and formalists, have traced their origins to his work.