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Putting an Unfinished Novel Back into Motion: A Digital Tool to Create Possible “Second Volumes” of Bouvard et Pécuchet

From the book Labor Imperfectus

  • Stéphanie Dord-Crouslé


As Flaubert feared, death interrupted the writing process of Bouvard etPécuchet. But does this incompletion express the structural impossibility of completing an encyclopedic novel that was to include, in its unwritten second volume, something like the totality of the world’s discourses? Without denying the interest that regards this novel as the precursor of our modernity, the Bouvard project ( wanted to consider its incompletion as essentially undergone and situational. By using digital media, it started again from the documentary materials gathered by Flaubert - these papers constitute only a work in progress that was brutally immobilized by the author’s death - and gave new life to the specific composition process of the second volume, which is based on an arrangement of textual fragments. There can then emerge a plurality of possible “second volumes”, which, far from remedying the effective incompleteness of the work, takes account of it and makes the mobility of its fragments a constitutive dimension of this unfinished work.

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