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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bouvard and Pecuchet by Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert, boss dog.

Bouvard and Pecuchet
 by Flaubert
p. 1881
Penguin Classics Edition
Translation by Dr. A.J. Krailsheimer

 I've developed quite the appreciation for Gustave Flaubert and his lifestyle.  Flaubert  declared himself "disgusted" by bourgeois life and at the earliest opportunity he repaired to the countryside to live in isolation, supported only by his trust fund, of course.

  From his little cottage he wrote the books that secured his everlasting fame, Madame Bovary and Sentimental Education, but he also wrote a couple of non classics that are interesting because they represent the life long obsessions of a very interesting author.  The first is the previously reviewed Temptation of Saint Anthony, which is a surreal fantasia concerning a night in the life of the reclusive St. Anthony (he lived in the Egyptian desert for 20 plus years, in a cave.)  The other is this book, Bouvard and Pecuchet which is supposed to be his denunciation of the bourgeois and their stupid obsessions with books at the expense of common sense and experience.

  Flaubert's obsessive hatred of the bourgeois can only be described as a kind of projected self loathing.  I'm not the kind of guy to attribute artistic genius to repressed homosexuality but you can't read about Flaubert and his lifestyle without at least wondering if maybe, just maybe, he was gay and couldn't deal with it.

  Bouvard and Pecuchet are two Parisian clerks with a shared fondness for books and knowledge.  When one receives an inheritance they jointly decide to go "back to the land" in a manner familiar to anyone who knows anything about 19th century intellectuals/bourgeois.  Once on the land, they make a hash of it, lose all their money and lose interest in agriculture.  In turn they embrace science, then archaeology, literature, politics, love, philosophy/religion and education.  They fail at each step and the purpose of the book seems to be to expose the stupidity that underlies all attempts at obtaining true knowledge from the pages of a book.

  Bouvard and Pecuchet was left unfinished, so there is no ending only a sketch that Flaubert left behind.  The obsessive reading of the principle characters struck me close to home.  After all, what is this blog but an effort to achieve what Bouvard and Pechuchet set out to achieve.  I will likely pursue additional information about Flaubert- I hear his letters were quite interesting.  That's probably where I will begin.

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