It is thought that Flaubert had intended a second-volume of Bouvard and Pécuchet which was to consist of the collected writings of its titular characters. It may well have included his Dictionary of Received Ideas (Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues) which wasn’t published until 1911-13. This satirical dictionary was added to the end of my Penguin copy of Bouvard and Pécuchet and I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favourite entries.
AUTHORS One should ‘know a few authors’: no need to know their names.
BEETHOVEN Don’t pronounce Beatoven. Be sure to swoon when one of his works is being played.
BLONDES Hotter than brunettes (See BRUNETTES)
BOOK Always too long, whatever the subject.
BREAD Nobody knows what filth goes into it.
BRUNETTES Hotter than blondes. (See BLONDES)
CELEBRITIES Find out the smallest details of their private lives, so that you can run them down.
CRUCIFIX Looks well above a bed—or on the scaffold.
DEICIDE Wax indignant over it, even though the crime is somewhat infrequent.
EARLY RISING A sign of morality. If one goes to bed at four in the morning and rises at eight, one is lazy; but if one goes to bed at nine in the evening and gets up the next day at five, one is an active type.
ENGLISHMEN All are rich.
ENGLISHWOMEN Express surprise that they can have pretty children.
FEUDALISM No need to have any clear idea what it was, but thunder against it.
GIBBERISH Foreigners’ way of talking. Always make fun of the foreigner who speaks your language badly.
GODFATHER Always the godchild’s real father.
HEALTH Excess of health causes illness.
HERNIA Everybody has one without knowing it.
IDEALS Perfectly useless.
IDIOTS Those who think differently from you.
IDLERS All Parisians are idlers, although nine out of ten Parisians come from the provinces. In Paris nobody works.
JAPAN Everything there is made of china.
LAW (THE) Nobody knows what it is.
LITERATURE Occupation of idlers.
MEDICINE When in good health, make fun of it.
NEIGHBOURS Try to get them to do you favours without its costing you anything.
OPTIMIST Synonym for idiot.
PROPERTY One of the foundations of society. More sacred than religion.
RABBIT PIE Always made of cat.
SERIALS The cause of our present demoralization. Argue about the way the story will end. Write to the author suggesting ideas. Fly into a rage when you find that one of the characters bears your name.
SPELLING Like mathematics. Not necessary if you have style.
TOYS Should always be educational.
UNPOLISHED Whatever is antique is unpolished, and whatever is unpolished is antique. Remember this when buying antiques.
WEALTH Substitute for everything, even reputation.
WORKMAN Always honest, unless he is rioting.