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Maupassant, (Henri René Albert) Guy de

MAUPASSANT, (Henri René Albert) Guy de

Nationality: French. Born: The Château de Miromesnil, near Rouen, 5 August 1850. Education: Lycée Impérial Napoléon, Paris, 1859-60; Institution Ecclésiastique, Yvetot, 1863-68; Lycée Pierre Corneille, Rouen, 1868-69; studied law, University of Paris, 1869-70. Military Service: Orderly, in the army, 1870-71. Career: Messenger, then Clerk in Ministry of the Navy: in library, 1872-73, and in Department for the Colonies, 1873-77; transferred to Ministry of Education, 1878-80; writer, especially for Le Gaulois and Gil-Blas (newspapers); confined to insane asylum, Passy, 1892. Died: 6 July 1893.

Publications

Collections

Complete Works. 9 vols., 1910.

Works. 10 vols., 1923-29.

Oeuvres complètes. 29 vols., 1925-47.

Contes et nouvelles, edited by Albert-Marie Schmidt. 2 vols., 1956-57.

Short Stories

La Maison Tellier. 1881.

Mademoiselle Fifi. 1882.

Contes de la Bécasse. 1883.

Miss Harriet. 1883.

Clair de lune. 1884.

Les Soeurs Rondoli. 1884.

Contes et nouvelles. 1885.

Contes du jour et de la nuit. 1885.

Yvette. 1885.

Monsieur Parent. 1885.

Toine. 1886.

La Petite Roque. 1886.

Le Horla. 1887.

Le Rosier de Madame Husson. 1888.

La Main gauche. 1889.

L'Inutile Beauté. 1890.

88 Short Stories. 1928.

Complete Short Stories. 3 vols., 1970.

Tales of Supernatural Terror, edited by Arnold Kellett. 1972.

The Diary of a Madman and Other Tales of Horror. 1976; as The Dark Side of Maupassant, 1989.

A Day in the Country and Other Stories. 1990.

Great Short Works of Guy de Maupassant. 1993.

Bed 29 and Other Stories. 1993.

A Parisian Bourgeois' Sundays, and Other Stories. 1997.

Novels

Une Vie. 1883; as A Woman's Life, 1965.

Bel-Ami. 1885; translated as Bel-Ami, 1891.

Mont-Oriol. 1887; translated as Mont-Oriol, 1891.

Pierre et Jean. 1888; as Pierre and Jean, 1890.

Fort comme la mort. 1889; as Strong as Death, 1899; as The Master Passion, 1958.

Notre coeur. 1890; as Notre Coeur (The Human Heart), 1890.

Plays

Une Répétition. 1879.

Histoire du vieux temps (produced 1879). In Des vers, 1880.

Musotte, with Jacques Normand, from a story by Maupassant (produced 1891). In Oeuvres complètes illustrées, 1904.

La Paix du ménage, from his own story (produced 1893).

Poetry

Des vers. 1880.

Other

Au soleil. 1884.

Sur l'eau. 1888.

La Vie errante. 1890.

Correspondance, edited by J. Suffel. 3 vols., 1973.

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Bibliography:

Maupassant Criticism in France 1880-1940 by Artine Artinian, 1941; Maupassant Criticism: A Centennial Bibliography 1880-1979 by Robert Willard Artinian, 1982.

Critical Studies:

Maupassant: A Biographical Study by Ernest Boyd, 1928; Maupassant: A Lion in the Path by Francis Steegmuller, 1949; Maupassant the Novelist, 1954, and Maupassant: The Short Stories, 1962, both by Edward D. Sullivan; The Private Life of Guy de Maupassant by R. de L. Kirkbridge, 1961; The Paradox of Maupassant by Paul Ignotus, 1967; Illusion and Reality: A Study of the Descriptive Techniques in the Works of Maupassant by John R. Dugan, 1973; Maupassant by Albert H. Wallace, 1973; Style andVision in Maupassant's Nouvelles by Matthew MacNamara, 1986; A Woman's Revenge: The Chronology of Dispossession in Maupassant's Fiction by Mary Donaldson-Evans, 1986; Love and Nature, Unity and Doubling in the Novels of Maupassant by Bertrand Logan Bell, 1988; Maupassant by Michael G. Lerner, 1975; Bel-Ami and Maupassant by Christopher Lloyd, 1988; Maupassant, Boule de suif by P.E. Chaplin, 1988; Maupassant in the Hall of Mirrors by T.A. Le V. Harris, 1990; The Rhetoric of Pessimism and Strategies of Containment in the Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant by David Bryant, 1993; Maupassant and the American Short Story: The Influence of his Form at the Turn of the Century by Richard Fusco, 1994; The Art of Rupture: Narrative Desire and Duplicity in the Tales of Guy de Maupassant by Charles J. Stivale, 1994; Voices of Authority: Criminal Obsession in Guy de Maupassant's Short Works by Mary L. Poteau-Tralie, 1994.

* * *

With more than 300 short stories to his credit, Guy de Maupassant was incomparably the most prolific short story writer of nineteenth-century France. It only increases one's incredulity to learn that all of his stories were produced within the span of just ten years. The quality of his stories was certainly uneven, but enough of them—perhaps as many as one-quarter—were of such high quality, and a number of them so innovative in concept and technique, that Maupassant is today generally accorded the distinction of having made the greatest contribution to the development of the French short story. Outside of France, too, Maupassant is widely regarded as a major figure in the short story and as an inescapable influence. Few are the twentieth-century writers, in Europe or America, who do not acknowledge having studied Maupassant's work and learned something of the craft of storytelling from him.

In the nineteenth century, when the history of the modern artistic short story began, few writers could have conceived the ambition of specializing in the short story at the outset of their careers, because it was not a viable option at the time. Maupassant certainly did not set out to be the short story specialist he eventually became. He did not even start out as a writer of any kind. In his twenties he earned his living as a civil servant and dabbled in literature in his spare time; he tried his hand at poems, plays, and stories and wrote occasional reviews for various journals, hoping to attract attention and make a start. Meanwhile, he eagerly availed himself of the offer of a family friend and fellow-Norman, Gustave Flaubert, who proposed to help him with his writing and encouraged him in his ambition to become a novelist, like Flaubert himself. Afterwards Maupassant always acknowledged Flaubert as his master and his model and was wont to say that Flaubert taught him everything he knew about writing fiction. Although his mentor did not live to see his pupil's success, Maupassant did indeed go on to write six successful novels, three of which are still widely read and admired. Nevertheless, at the age of 30, Maupassant discovered his own talent for the shorter forms of fiction when a novella he had written about the Franco-Prussian War won wide and enthusiastic acclaim. This was the story called "Ball-of-Fat," which first appeared in 1880 as one in a volume of six antiwar stories and made Maupassant a literary celebrity overnight.

His career thus launched and his storytelling talent uncovered, Maupassant became a regular contributor to several journals, turning out stories at an amazing rate, most of them relatively short—about 3, 000 words—to meet the stringent space needs of journals. By 1882 he had enough stories that met his personal artistic standards (learned from his mentor, Flaubert) to publish a first collection. It would be followed by at least a dozen more such volumes before illness put an end to his career.

The most conspicuous hallmarks of Maupassant's storytelling skill were rapidity of movement and precise observation. He learned to "set up" a story situation with just a few brief sentences, carefully selecting and describing the details of character and place most essential for grasping the significance of the story, and he then moved the reader swiftly and with stunning economy through the action of the plot, stopping the moment the meaning of the narrative had become fully revealed to the alert reader. This procedure demanded tremendous discipline of the author to prune his prose of superfluous verbiage without loss of clarity, but it produced in return a narrative that accumulated dramatic force by its speed and concentration and gave the reader the pleasure of sudden enlightenment at the dénouement. The procedure also had the advantage of transforming the handicap of space limitation imposed by journals into a rich source of narrative power. Maupassant developed to a high degree of perfection the art of making enforced brevity work to his own advantage. The celebrated tale "The Necklace" can be profitably studied as a consummate example of what Maupassant's techniques of precise observation and rapid narration can accomplish. The ending of that story is particularly noteworthy, because it not only brings sudden enlightenment to the reader but to the story's characters as well. Maupassant was, of course, not content to let his basic storytelling techniques decline into a formula to be applied mechanically to any number of different plots. He became ingeniously inventive at finding ways to shift attention away from the ending, for example, by placing a dramatic climax in the center of a story and allowing the ending to be quietly reflective, as happens in the farcical novella about a house of prostitution called "La Maison Tellier." And he could be slow and deliberate in his narrative pace when it suited his purposes, as in a story about fear of the unknown called "On the Water," which depended on the slow build-up of a kind of atmosphere for its effect but needed no rapid narration and no dramatic revelation at the end. The variety of means in Maupassant's stories is more than matched by the variety of the subjects he managed to treat and the variety of narrative manners—from frivolous to solemn, from satirical to compassionate, from ribald to sentimental—that he was capable of employing. One could, for example, make up a sizable anthology of Maupassant's stories about the Franco-Prussian War, and they would reveal the many moods, both gay and bitter, with which Maupassant, who served in the war, regarded his experiences. Another anthology could be constructed of Maupassant's stories about the fantastic and the terrifying, including the most famous example, "Le Horla"; these stories have often been read as foreshadowings of the insanity Maupassant suffered at the end of his life, thus investing those tales with a prophetic spookiness the author never intended. An objective reading of those tales would reveal, instead, a very objective and clear-headed attempt to analyze the irrational fear of the unknown in human nature. The two largest thematically related story groups in all of Maupassant's vast output of stories are those that concern the peasants of Normandy ("The Piece of String" is the best-known example of that group) and those that concern the Parisian petite bourgeoisie: clerks, shopkeepers, civil servants, and such ("The Necklace" is the best-known story set in that milieu). Those two different worlds, both of which he knew intimately from personal experience, seemed to bring out the very best in Maupassant, and that very best is certainly an uncanny ability to penetrate into the deepest and darkest secrets of the human soul and, by deft and sensitive narrative techniques, to bring those secrets to the surface, where others can see and understand what otherwise goes unnoticed in the human comedy. It is that talent that made Maupassant the greatest storyteller of his age and that will preserve his reputation as a great storyteller for as long as people are interested in understanding the innermost secrets of human nature through the enchantment of art and the medium of the short story.

—Murray Sachs

See the essays on "Ball of Fat," "Hautot and His Son," and "The Necklace."

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