Dictionary of Accepted Ideas
Jacques Barzun's masterful translation proves that Flaubert's Dictionary of Accepted Ideas—an acid catalogue of the clichés of 19th-century France—is as relevant today as ever.Throughout his life Flaubert made it a game to eavesdrop for the cliché, the platitude, the borrowed and unquestioned idea with which the “right thinking” swaddle their minds. After his death his little treasury of absurdities, of half-truths and social lies, was published as a Dictionnaire des idées reçues. Because its devastating humor and irony are often dependent on the phrasing in vernacular French, the Dictionnairewas long considered untranslatable. This notion was taken as a challenge by Jacques Barzun. Determined to find the exact English equivalent for each “accepted idea” Flaubert recorded, he has succeeded in documenting our own inanities. With a satirist’s wit and a scholar’s precision, Barzun has produced a very contemporary self-portrait of the middle-class philistine, a species as much alive today as when Flaubert railed against him.
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