Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1335
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 guests found fault everywhere and eventually laughed at the whole affair.
These failures, however, were easily attributed to the ignorance of the guests, and, thinking they had achieved some degree of success, Bouvard and Pecuchet went on to something else. The fruit trees in the garden had done fairly well, so they determined to use their produce from the farm and attempt to find better ways of preserving their food. In this experiment, they almost succeeded in blowing themselves up, but in nothing else. This time the failures were attributed to a lack of knowledge about chemistry; they then began to study that science.
Chemistry quickly led them to an interest in medicine, which they took up in even greater detail. Here again, they were merely confused by the great number of contradictory theories. They practiced this art on some of the local people, much to the anger of M. Vaucorbeil, the local doctor, but the experiment ended when they began imagining that they were themselves suffering from many different ailments. The study, however, had awakened an interest in the secret of life and the universe, and they soon took up geology in an attempt to find out the truth about the world. This pursuit, however, led only to controversy with the cure because their findings apparently contradicted the teachings of the Church.
Within six months, geology had led them into a study of archaeology, and soon they had turned their home into a museum, filling it with all the great treasures they had discovered in the neighborhood. Their neighbors again came to see what was being done, but none appreciated their efforts to the extent that Bouvard and Pecuchet thought they should have; however, they were not to be daunted. Their interest in ancient objects led to an interest in the people, but they soon realized they could not understand people without knowing something of psychology. In an attempt to learn this science, they began reading historical romances. From this point, they proceeded through various types of literature, including drama, and soon they began acting out certain plays for their own amusement. Again the villagers became interested in the doings of Bouvard and Pecuchet, and it was in this connection that Bouvard developed a romantic interest in Madame Bordin.
He began to see her frequently and was quickly overcome with a strong desire to marry her. She consented to marry him but at the same time extracted the promise of a favor. When Bouvard learned that the favor was for him to fulfill her desire to own a certain piece of property in his possession, his hopes ended. He could not give her the property, and she would not marry him otherwise. In the meantime, Pecuchet had been carrying on his own affair with their servant girl. He was quite successful in his attempts, but because of them he contracted a venereal disease which caused him an extreme amount of embarrassment. The two friends became more and more dejected.
For diversion, they became interested in athletics, then spiritualism. Soon they were again practicing medicine and studying psychology. Logic and metaphysics also occupied them for a time; then they turned to religion. In each case, however, they became disgusted or frustrated in their attempts and soon gave them up. About this time, they decided to adopt a boy and girl who were to be sent away to a reformatory and an orphanage, respectively. They wanted to devote all of their time and energy to the education and training of these two children, but again they simply became confused by the divergent ideas on education and even by the subject matter they were supposed to be teaching. The worst part came when they discovered that the children would not respond to education and, in fact, were incorrigible delinquents. They had to be sent away.
At this point, Flaubert’s manuscript broke off, but a plan found among his papers after his death indicated the following conclusion to the story: Bouvard and Pecuchet were to proceed in the same manner for some time, lecturing to the people on such topics as morals, ethics, and government. In time, they were to get to a consideration of the condition of mankind and the world, and from there they were to proceed to speculation about the future. Finally, they were to realize how foolish they had been since they had come to the country. The remedy, the thing that would really make them happy, would be to go back to their desks and continue the routine work of copying. Thus, they ordered a desk and writing materials and prepared to go to work.
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