Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) - in full Henry-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant - French author of the naturalistic school, generally considered the greatest French short story writer. Maupassant took the subjects for his pessimistic stories and novels chiefly from the behavior of the bourgeoisie, the Franco-Prussian War, and the fashionable life of Paris. During the last years of life, Maupassant suffered from mental illness.
Guy de Maupassant was probably born at the Château de Miromesniel, Dieppe. His paternal ancestors were noble, and his maternal grandfather, Paul Le Poittevin, was Gustave Flaubert's godfather. Maupassant spent his childhood in Normandy, the scene of several of his tales. When Maupassant was 11, his parents separated, and he was brought up by his mother in the picturesque coastal town of Étretat. While studying at the Rouen Lycée, after being expelled from the seminary at Yvetot, Maupassant started to write poetry.
In his teens Maupassant was shown, by the poet Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909), a mummified hand. He used this haunting image in his early short story 'La Main Ecorchée' (1875). The gift of a photographic memory enabled him to gather a storehouse of information, which later helped him in his stories about the Norman people. From Flaubert, who was obsessed with the writer's craft, Maupassant learned the exactness and accuracy of observations and balance and precision of style. However, by nature Maupassant himself was more light-hearted and more cynical than Flaubert.
In 1869 Maupassant joined his stockbroker brother in Paris, where he started to study law at the Sorbonne, but soon, at age 20, he volunteered to serve in the army during Franco-Prussian War. After returning to Paris, Maupassant joined the literary circle of Gustave Flaubert. The famous writer was a friend of Maupassant's mother's friend, and introduced his protégé to Émile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, and Henry James.
Between the years 1872 and 1880 Maupassant was a civil servant, first at the ministry of maritime affairs, then at the ministry of education. He hated to work and spent much of his free time in pursuit of women. Under the pseudonym of Guy de Valmont, Maupassant contributed articles to the newspapers.
As a poet Maupassant made his debut with Des vers, which came out in 1880. In the same year he published with other Naturalist writers his masterpiece, 'Boule de Suif' (Ball of Fat, 1880), in Emile Zola's anthology Les Soirées de Medan (1880). The theme of the anthology was the Franco-Prussian War. Other writers included Zola and J.-K. Huysmans, but Maupassant's contribution, considered a manifestation of naturalism, is the most famous. Huysmans, Maupassant, Zola, and Paul Alexis among others were known as Le Groupe de Médan - the name was drawn from the house where Zola lived.
Set during the Franco-Prussian War, the story tells of well-known prostitute, nicknamed 'Boule de Suif', who is traveling in a coach with bourgeois fellow passengers. They are detained by a Prussian officer, who will not allow the coach to proceed until Boule de Suif gives her to him, which she refuses on principle to do: Kindly tell that scoundrel, that cur, that carrion of a Prussian, that I will never consent--you understand?--never, never, never! However, the other passagers start to get bored and press her to yield to the officers demands. After swallowing her pride, she spends a night with him and in the morning she is treated by the group as if she had been infected with some deadly disease. No one looked at her, no one thought of her. She felt herself swallowed up in the scorn of these virtuous creatures, who had first sacrificed, then rejected her as a thing useless and unclean. Then she remembered her big basket full of the good things they had so greedily devoured: the two chickens coated in jelly, the pies, the pears, the four bottles of claret; and her fury broke forth like a cord that is overstrained, and she was on the verge of tears. She made terrible efforts at self-control, drew herself up, swallowed the sobs which choked her; but the tears rose nevertheless, shone at the brink of her eyelids, and soon two heavy drops coursed slowly down her cheeks.
It has often been said that the American director John Ford borrowed the plot to his film Stagecoach (1939). Ford knew the story, but Ernest Haycox's character study 'Stage to Lordsburg' served for the director as the framework for his famous morality play. Partly for commercial reasons, the Stagecoach team hide their 'arty' source. In the film a group of people travel by stage to Lordsburg, passing through Indian territory. The socially respected passengers turn out to be hypocrites, thieves, and unworthy characters, whereas the outsiders win their faults or show bravery and compassion. Claire Trevor played the good-hearted prostitute Dallas. John Wayne, in the role of the Ringo Kidd, became a star.
During the 1880s Maupassant wrote some 300 short stories, six novels, three travel books, and one volume of verse. Probably Maupassant fictionalized true occurrences or tales told to him, but his experiences as a reporter and columnist provided him material. In 1881 he reported on the French campaign against Tunisia. His tales were marked by objectivity, highly controlled style, and sometimes sheer comedy. Usually they were built around simple episodes from everyday life, which revealed the hidden sides of people. Maupassant has been accused of misogynism, but his portrayal of prostitutes was sympathetic. According to Maupassant, a modern novel aims not at telling a story or entertaining us or touching our hearts but at forcing us to think and understand the deeper, hidden meaning of events.
On several occasions the tales were narrated in the first person or were told by a named character. In 'The Jewels of M. Lantin' the chief clerk of the Minister of the Interior marries the daughter of a provincial tax collector. He is unbelievably happy. She has only two small vices - her love of the theater and her passion for artificial jewels. One wintry evening she comes from the opera shivering with cold and a week later she dies. Lantin is haunted by his memories, and plunges into poverty. He takes her necklace to a jeweler who tells that it is very valuable. Lantin has believed that his wife's jewelry were fakes because she could not have purchased valuable items. He realizes that they were gifts and the truth makes him weep bitterly. As he walked along, Lantin said to himself, How easy it is to be happy when you're rich! With money you can even shake off your sorrows; you can go or stay as you please! You can travel and amuse yourself. He sells her jewelry, resigns from his work, and enjoys the theater for the first time in his life. Six months later he married. His second wife was a most worthy woman, but rather difficult. She made his life unbearable.
Maupassant's first novel was Une vie (A Woman's Life, 1883), a naturalistic story about the life of a Norman woman, Jeanne de Lamare, whose kindliness is her strength but also a vice. And now she was leaving the convent, radiant, full of youthful sap and hunger for happiness, primed for all the joyful experiences, all the charming occurrences, that she had already mentally rehearsed in solitary anticipation throughout her idle daylight moments and the long hours of night. The episodic novel Bel-Ami (1885) depicted an unscrupulous journalist, Georges Duroy, whose success is build on hypocrisy, decadence, and corruption of the society. Maupassant named his little sailing yacht after the book.
Pierre et Jean (1888) was a psychological study of adultery of a young wife and two brothers. The novel was thought to be immoral - infidelity is not actually condemned. In Luis Buñuel's screen adaptation of the novel from 1951, which the director later called his worst film, the emphasis is on the woman's experience. Buñuel made also other changes: the story is transported to modern Mexico. The ending is, ambiguously, a happy one.
Maupassant's most upsetting horror story, 'Le Horla' (1887), was about madness and suicide. The nameless protagonist is perhaps a syphilitic. In the beginning the narrator, a prosperous young Norman gentleman, sees a Brazilian three-master boat flow by his house. He salutes it and the gesture evidently summons the Horla, and invisible being. The Horlas are cousins of the vampires and their advent means the end of the reign of man. Our narrator eventually sets fire to his own house, to destroy his Horla, but only his servants die in the fire. He realizes that the Horla is still alive and decides to kill himself.
Maupassant had contracted syphilis in his 20s and the disease later caused increasing mental disorder. Also Maupassat's sight had troubled him at intervals, he suffered from severe headaches and used narcotics. Critics have charted the author's developing illness through his semi-autobiographical stories of abnormal psychology, but the theme of mental disorder is present in his first collection, La Maison Tellier (1881), published at the height of his health. 'A Night in Paris' is a paranoid nightmare: its narrator feels compelled to walk the streets. In 'Who Knows?' the narrator sufferers from delusions about the furniture of his house, and in 'A Madman' a judge commits murder, just for the experience, and condemns an innocent man to death for the crime.
Maupassant's horror fiction consists of some 39 stories, only a tenth of his total. The nightmarish stories have much in common with Edgar Allan Poe's supernatural visions. Recurring theme is madness.'The Inn' has much similarities with Stephen King's famous novel The Shining. Maupassant describes two caretakers, living in the French Alps in a remote inn, which is surrounded by snow six months and unreachable. When the older caretaker goes missing, the younger in his loneliness loses his reason. 'The Hand' is about a severed, living human hand which. Despite it is chained up, it escapes and strangles its owner. The story has inspired several writers and movie directors, such as Robert Florey, Henry Cass, and Oliver Stone. Maupassant's other supernatural stories include 'The Englishman', 'The Apparation / The Spectre / The Ghost / The Story of a Law Suit', 'Was It a Dream', and 'Who Knows'.