Flaubert’s Masterpiece

April 26, 2007

Madame Bovary is likely the best known of Flaubert’s works, but Bouvard and Pecuchet is considered by many who have read both, to be the better novel. Although I always approach unfinished novels with a little trepidation, the book’s description was intriguing so I took the chance. No regrets- it is the better novel.
Bouvard and Pecuchet are middle aged copy clerks who are thrown together by circumstances, and after discovering a common habit they quickly become friends and coconspirators in a life of leisure, learning, and what appears to be consistent failure. An inheritance funds their lifestyle, but it is their curiosity that drives their pursuit of knowledge.

The friends first embrace farming, and fail. They stumble through fields including philosophy, medicine, politics, education, and literature. They read continuously. They experiment. They discuss and debate. They stumble through one misadventure after another. They do have successes, but that only pushes them further until they fail, even in love.

At first, the novel appears to progress as a comedy of errors. But although Bouvard and Pecuchet appear to be fools, they are not, and there is much that we can learn from them, as Flaubert intended.

The new translation from Mark Polizzotti includes chapter outlines and fragments for additional chapters that were never completed. The novel is followed by Flaubert’s charming Dictionary of Accepted Ideas and Catalogue of Fashionable Ideas. A poorer translation of the Dictionary is available here.


6 Responses to “Flaubert’s Masterpiece”

  1. Stefanie Says:

    I just read Madame Bovary for the first time last year. I will have to be on the lookout for this book.

  2. Ted Says:

    I liked Madame Bovary, but was not overly wowed, so I’ll be on the lookout for this text as well. How obvious was it, in the reading, that the novel is unfinished?

    Also, you should know that your image is not showing up. Thanks for the post!

  3. Brad Says:

    Throughout the novel, there is no indication that it wasn’t finished until one reaches the point in the text where it clearly stated that the text ends. There are outlines and notes included for future chapters, and I have read speculations that it would have been significantly longer if Flaubert had finished it. It doesn’t have the sort of plot that suffers greatly by the lack of “resolution.”

    Thanks for the note about the image. I don’t know what the problem is since it shows up for me. I have noticed the same thing on other sites on occassion though. I will try and post a slightly smaller image and see it that helps.

  4. Ted Says:

    Thanks for explanation. It sounds similar to Kafka’s The Castle, where the text just ends, but there is no real plot to speak of, so it doesn’t matter.

    The image is showing up for me now.

  5. litlove Says:

    I haven’t read this one, although I’m generally a fan of Flaubert’s. Have you read his Trois contes? (translated at Three Stories, I imagine). I find them the most intriguing thing he’s done. I also love that Dictionary of Received Ideas – that’s the essence of Flaubert for me.

  6. LK Says:

    Loved Madame Bovary, and I have not really heard much about this book. Thank you for the post.

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