Books: French Mutt & Jeff

BOUVARD AND PÉCUCHET (348 pp.)—Gustave Flaubert—New Directions ($3.75).

Anybody but Gustave Flaubert would have been satisfied to go down in history as the author of Madame Bovary, one of the most searching and compassionate stories of a woman ever written. But Flaubert was also gifted with an acute sense of the fatuous, had long thought his mission was to write an encyclopedic lampoon of human stupidity. At 51, he set out to write Bouvard and Pécuchet, the story of a couple of Paris copying clerks, simpletons both, who want to improve their minds. In preparation, he settled down to read everything he...

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