Author: Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893)
Translators: Albert M. C. McMaster, A. E. Henderson, Mme Quesada et al
Guy de Maupassant, full name Henri-Jean-Albert-Guy de Maupassant, was born near the town of Dieppe on the northern shores of France. At the age of 20, he enlisted in the army during the Franco–Prussian War (19 July 1870–10 May 1871). After the war, he went to work in Paris where he came under the wings of Gustave Flaubert, a childhood friend of his mother. The author of Madame Bovary introduced him to the leading writers of the day including Emile Zola, Henry James and Ivan Tugenev. Flaubert lived long enough to witness his protégé achieve national acclaim with Boule de Suif, a short story set in the Franco–Prussian War: Flaubert proclaimed it as “a masterpiece that will endure”. It remains Maupassant’s most famous work and its success launched a productive decade for Maupassant. In all, he wrote about 300 short stories and six novels.
Maupassant has suffered from syphilis since his 20s and it may have driven him insane. After he attempted suicide in 1892, he was committed to a private asylum in Paris where he died the following year.
Today, Maupassant is considered as a master of the modern short story, along with his contemporaries Anton Chekhov (1860–1904) and O. Henry (1862–1910).
What is the story about?
This volume include two of Maupassant’s most famous stories. A prostitute takes centerstage in both these stories set against the backdrop of the Franco–Prussian War. In Boule de Suif (translated as Dumpling, Ball of Fat or Ball of Lard) (1880), Maupassant contrasts the selflessness of the prostitute against the avarice and hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie and clergy. The Jewish prostitute in Mademoiselle Fifi (1882) quietly accepted physical abuse at the hands of the Prussian officers administering her town. She even swallowed their boast that “France and the French, the woods, the fields and the houses of France belong to us!” But she retaliated with unexpected courage when one particularly odious officer claimed: “All the women in France belong to us also!”
Maupassant’s literature were very much influenced by his mentor Gustave Flaubert, one of the founding fathers of Literary Realism. This movement is contrasted with the preceding Romanticism: Realism, as the term itself suggests, aimed to represent real life as it is, in all its ordinariness, without embellishment or idealisation. The focus is on the ordinary, not the extraordinary. Therefore, Maupassant’s characters are mostly ordinary persons dealing with the ordinary reality of their day-to-day lives. In Boule de Suif and Mademoiselle Fifi the protagonists are two working girls doing the best they could in difficult times.
Maupassant’s writing style is simple and economical.
Easily digestible read.