Thank goodness this was a translated copy because in spite of my five years of French study in high school and beyond, what remains in my head is pretty much only shards of the language mostly along the lines of La plume de ma tante est sur le bureau de mon oncle, and un bon vin blanc, and coc au vin. You will note the preponderance of food vocabulary. Oh, yes, and Miss Piggy’s Qui, moi?
These two guys meet, at about age 47, in Paris, and become instant inseparable friends. They are hapless, gormless, pitiful, and likeable. They are both copy clerks, and when Bouvard comes into an inheritance, he buys a place in the country where they go to after quitting their jobs, to be gentlemen farmers. But they can’t raise a thing except local eyebrows.
The tag line on the book is “A tragi-comic Novel of Bourgeois Life”, and it does have it’s comic overtones as the two stumble from one failure to another, not to mention their deteriorating relationship with the local villagers, who consider them to be idiots of the first water. At last, they admit defeat and decide to go back into the copyist business together.
This is an unfinished work by Flaubert, and he intended to explore the notions of science, and what is knowable and learnable for practical application from books. Although their country house is filling up with instructions, and manuals, and printed information, they are unable to make use of it to be successful in any of their endeavors.
It was written in 1880, and published a year after his death. It was received by the critics at the time with the same reaction as mine: meh.