Study Guide

Bouvard and Pecuchet

by Gustave Flaubert

Bouvard and Pecuchet Summary

Summary (Essentials of European Literature)

Bouvard and Pecuchet met quite by accident one summer evening while each was out for a walk. They sat down to rest at the same moment on the same bench and soon noticed that they had both written their names on the inside of their hats. On this common ground, they began talking and soon found out that they were alike in practically everything except appearance. They held the same political views and the same kind of job as clerks, and both were bachelors living alone. Pecuchet, however, was fairly tall and thin, while Bouvard was shorter and much heavier. After a lengthy conversation, they decided it was time for them to return to their homes, and they then spent much more time walking each other to their respective doors. A friendship had already developed; from that time on, they spent every available moment together.

Soon afterward, Bouvard learned that he had inherited a considerable sum of money from a man who he thought was his uncle but who was really his natural father. Because the friends shared everything by this time, Bouvard considered and consulted Pecuchet before making any plans for investing his fortune. It was decided between them that they should buy a house and farm far from the city and their desks and, after much deliberation about location, they finally obtained one. They thought that now they could forget their rather plebeian tasks as clerks and give themselves up to more rewarding labors. They had long ago convinced themselves that they possessed great minds and that only circumstances prevented them from becoming great men.

One of the first things they undertook after settling on their farm was the care of the kitchen garden. They made elaborate plans, did a great deal of work, and subsequently had some success. Confident of their abilities, they decided to undertake the care of the entire farm, work which had previously been done by a tenant. For this project they consulted the successful farmers of the neighborhood, read all the authorities to discover the best methods, and even subscribed to an agricultural journal. Nevertheless, there were far too many theories advanced, and they were compelled to guess which were the best. At this they were unsuccessful. Soon all the livestock had broken through the fences and run off or had died from excessive bloodletting. The wheat caught fire and was completely destroyed because of their own ignorance and carelessness. Bouvard and Pecuchet realized that such farming would completely ruin them within two years.

They decided that these failures were simply a result of their trying to do too much at once. It was then resolved to give up the major part of the farm and concentrate their efforts on making a beautiful formal garden. They planted the rarest flowers, trees, and shrubs, and they pruned and cut the trees and bushes into unusual shapes. They included sculpture in their design and even made a pool for which they carried water by hand every day. When the garden was completed, they invited all the important people of the neighborhood to dinner and planned to surprise them afterward with a view of the garden. The dinner, however, was a failure, and when the blinds were pulled to show the garden, they discovered that the evening light was a great disadvantage. The...

(The entire section is 1335 words.)