Although unfinished during his lifetime, Bouvard and Pécuchet is now considered to be one of Flaubert’s greatest masterpieces. In his own words, the novel is “a kind of encyclopedia made into farce . . . A book in which I shall spit out my bile.” At the center of this book are Bouvard and Pécuchet, two retired clerks who set out in a search for truth and knowledge with persistent optimism in light of the fact that each new attempt at learning about the world ends in disaster.
In the literary tradition of Rabelais, Cervantes, and Swift, this story is told in that blend of satire and sympathy that only genius can compound, and the reader becomes genuinely fond of these two Don Quixotes of Ideas. Apart from being a new translation, this edition includes Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas.
Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was one of the most important writers of the 19th century, the inventor of the contemporary short story, and the direct forerunner of modernist literature. He, more than any other single figure, is the creator of modern prose: his terse, hard-edged style reveals character, plot, and theme not by authorial exposition, but by extreme precisions of diction, voice, and detail. Joyce explicitly modeled himself on Flaubert; Pound called him “Papa Gustave”; and the critic James Wood wrote, “Novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring; it all begins again with him.”