‘The House of Madame Tellier and Other Stories’ by Guy de Maupassant

Maupassant_Mme-Tellier-fcX-700pxI found this collection in my county library’s reserve store. As with most collections of Maupassant’s stories it includes versions of Boule de Suif, The Necklace and The Horla. Although those three stories are all excellent a quick read of any of the other stories will reveal that Maupassant wrote many more stories that are really just as good, if not better.

This collection contains thirty-two stories in total, translated by Marjorie Laurie and originally published in 1934. The Everyman edition that I read was published in 1991. A full list of the stories can be found on the Marvellous Maupassant blog. I was impressed with the collection as a whole as it shows off Maupassant’s skill and versatility excellently. There’s a good mixture of short and punchy stories, longer stories where he’s allowed time to develop characters a bit more and a few horror and decadent stories as well just to keep the jaded reader interested.

Rather than go through all the stories I’ll just concentrate on one of my favourites from the collection. Be aware that I will reveal the ending of this story.

Madame Husson’s Rose-King (Le Rosier de Mme Husson) starts with a framing device where the narrator recounts how the train he was travelling in gets derailed near Gisors. There are no casualties as the train was moving slowly, however as it’s going to take a while to get the train back on the track the narrator decides to visit an old acquaitance in Gisors who he has been meaning to visit. This friend, Albert Marambot, who is a bachelor and a doctor, lives well and says he never gets bored as a small town offers enough amusements to satisfy anyone. Marambot takes his visitor around the town enlightening him about the history of Gisors. The narrator is starting to get a bit bored with Marambot’s enthusiasm for local history when Marambot spots a drunk staggering down the road. The description of the drunk is absolutely brilliant so I will quote it in full:

At that moment we caught sight of a drunken man, reeling along at the far end of the street. With head thrust forward, arms dangling, and nerveless legs, he advanced towards us by short rushes of three, six, or ten rapid steps, followed by a pause. After a brief spasm of energy, he found himself in the middle of the street, where he stopped dead, swaying on his feet, hesitating between a fall and a fresh burst of activity. Suddenly he made off in a new direction. He ran up against a house, and clung to the wall as if to force his way through it. Then, with a start, he turned round, and gazed in front of him, open-mouthed, his eyes blinking in the sun. With a movement of the hips, he jerked his back away from the wall and continued on his way. A small yellow dog, a half-starved mongrel, followed him barking, halting when he halted, and moving when he moved.

‘Look,’ said Marambot, ‘there’s one of Madame Husson’s Rose-kings.’

And so, nearly half-way through the story, Marambot begins the main story of the Rose-king. He tells of Madame Husson who was devoted to doing good works and of her horror of vice. She decided that Gisors should follow Paris’s example and they should have their own Rose-queen. With the priest’s help she makes a list of candidates and she asks her maid to find out whether the girls have any secret vices that would make them unworthy of such a position. The problem is that no girls in the town are above suspicion of vice. The maid reveals that the only person who is above suspicion is Isidore, the twenty-year old son of a greengrocer, who is shy and chaste. ‘He was perfection; a pearl of purity.’ Mme Husson was initially unsure about having a Rose-king instead of a Rose-queen but is convinced by the abbé as ‘virtue knows neither country or sex.’

So, it’s decided that Isidore will be the Rose-king and the celebrational procession and speeches are all planned. On the day Isidore wears a white suit and he heads the procession followed by Mme Husson, other local dignitaries and a band. The mayor makes a brilliant speech applauding virtue and awards a crying Isidore with five hundred francs in gold. Then there’s a banquet with mountains of food and rivers of drink. Isidore eats and drinks with gusto. When the banquet ends in the evening Isidore is escorted home by Mme Husson. The empty house now suddenly seems drab, he takes the gold coins out of his bag and counts them. He then takes the money and leaves the house. When his mother returns she becomes worried that Isidore is missing. The police are unable to find him but it soon becomes apparent that he had headed for Paris. Weeks pass and there is still no news of Isidore until one day a doctor recognises him asleep in a doorway, an empty brandy bottle in his pocket and his once white suit now a shabby grey. He has no money left and he is returned home. He has now become an incorrigible drunk and can be regularly seen stumbling along the streets of Gisors. From this day forward all the drunks were given the nickname ‘Madame Husson’s Rose-king’. Marambot then continues with the dreary local history titbits.

I found this story enchanting. I can imagine Maupassant having fun writing it, poking fun at those prudish do-gooders’ attempts to promote abstinence. Another, equally irreverent, story is Playing With Fire (Le Signe) which humorously tells how Baroness de Grangerie accidently became a prostitute…it really wasn’t her fault, you know! And there’s the story of Madame Oreille who is a frugal soul who won’t let her husband splash out on a new umbrella and the story of St. Anthony who gets his revenge on an occupying Prussian soldier and the story where……

This is cross-posted on my blog Intermittencies of the Mind.

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One thought on “‘The House of Madame Tellier and Other Stories’ by Guy de Maupassant

  1. Pingback: ‘The House of Madame Tellier and Other Stories’ by Guy de Maupassant | Intermittencies of the Mind

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