‘Pierre and Jean’ by Guy de Maupassant

Pierre and Jean was Maupassant’s fourth novel and was originally published in 1888. It’s a short novel, running to only about 130 pages in my edition, but Maupassant, well used to short-stories, doesn’t hang about and gets the story moving from page 1.

It begins on a boat; Gérôme Roland is fishing and he is accompanied by his wife, Louise, their two sons, Pierre and Jean, and the young attractive widow Mme Rosémilly. M. Roland is a retired jeweller from Paris who decided to move to Le Havre once he had made enough money. Pierre the older son had tried various professions but has recently qualified as a doctor, while the younger son, Jean, who is more diligent has recently passed his diploma in law. Both brothers are looking to set themselves up in business in Le Havre. There is an element of competition between the brothers and both have an eye for Mme Rosémilly.

When they return from their boating expedition the servant informs M. Roland that his lawyer, M. Lecanu, wishes to speak to him urgently. It turns out that an old friend of the family from their Parisian days, M. Maréchal, has recently died and left his inheritance to Jean, whom he thinks is worthy of this legacy. Everyone is shocked but overjoyed, and of course a little sad of the death of their friend whom they had nearly forgotten about. But why does he only leave the money to Jean, and not also Pierre? M. Roland argues that it was because Maréchal was present at the birth of Roland’s second son.

Both Jean and Pierre are a little dazed by the events and both go out separately for a walk. Pierre is out of sorts and wonders if he is jealous of Jean. He admits he is a little jealous but won’t let that stop loving his brother. When Pierre goes to visit a friend of his and recounts the day’s news the friend says, without elaborating further, “That won’t look good”, but Pierre has no idea why he says that. Later, when talking to a barmaid about the inheritance she innocently mentions that it’s no wonder that Jean looks nothing like Pierre. It’s a little later that he realises what these comments mean; that Maréchal must have left the money to Jean because Jean was Maréchal’s son, which also means that Pierre’s beloved mother must have had an affair behind his father’s back. Now the seed has been sown in Pierre’s mind he keeps thinking and thinking, digging deeper and deeper. He tries to remember Maréchal from his youth and remembers a photograph of him that used to be in the house. Pierre wonders what he should do, after all at this stage they are only suspicions, but even if they were untrue it could easily lead to gossip and be a threat to his mother’s honour. But Pierre is unable to tell Jean his suspicions as the others are all celebrating their good fortune. Instead, Pierre tries to find out more about Maréchal from his parents.

    He kept on saying to himself: ‘Why has this Maréchal left all his money to Jean?’
     It was no longer jealousy that made him seek an answer, not the rather unworthy but natural envy he knew was hidden inside him and that he had been fighting against for three days, but terror of an appalling thing, terror of believing that his brother Jean was the son of this man!

But poor Pierre doesn’t know what to think; if it’s true then it means that his beloved mother had an affair. But he soon admits that it could be true.

    Certainly she might have loved just like any other woman. For why should she be different from any other even though she was his mother?

So, I wondered at this stage of the novel how a typical nineteenth century writer may have ended it: the mother may die of guilt and shame; the brothers may have fought over Pierre’s suspicions with one or the other dying or living their life in poverty; Pierre may have convinced Jean to give up the inheritance to protect their mother’s reputation, etc. etc. None of these are correct. I shall reveal the ending in what follows so you may wish to stop reading at this point if you don’t want to know the ending. Instead, after seeing the picture of Maréchal, Pierre is convinced that Jean is Maréchal’s son and finally confronts Jean with this information. Pierre has become increasingly irritable over the last few weeks and by now Pierre suspects that his mother knows of his suspicions. Jean thinks Pierre is just jealous of him, especially as he’s just announced his marriage to Mme Rosémilly. But Pierre unburdens himself and when he’s finished he leaves. The story up to now has been from Pierre’s viewpoint but it now cleverly switches to Jean’s viewpoint. Jean quietly tries to process the information and then goes to his mother, who was in the next room when Pierre blurted everything out, and asks her if were true. When she acknowledges that it is true she is prepared to depart from his life forever, however, Jean is having none of it and offers her love and protection.

Alone, Jean thinks about the events of the night and what needs to be done:

If he had learned the secret of his birth in any other way he would certainly have been outraged and felt a deep resentment, but after his quarrel with his brother, after this violent and brutal accusation which had shaken his nerves, the heartbreaking emotion of his mother’s confession took away all his energy to revolt. The shock to his feelings had been violent enough to sweep away all the prejudices and pious susceptibilties of natural morality on an irresistible wave of emotion.

He contemplates giving up the inheritance but reasons that he can no longer claim any inheritance from M. Roland as that is Pierre’s by right so then the inheritance from Maréchal is then his by right. The next day Jean arranges, with Pierre’s acceptance, to organise a doctor’s position on a cruise ship for Pierre. Pierre is quite happy to go as he’s now guilty about blurting out his suspicions to Jean and it will give him an income for a while as well as some time to think. M. Roland meanwhile is totally oblivious to everything that’s going on around him.

Pierre is not sure what his mother told Jean but seems happy enough to allow everything to carry on as normal. It’s funny how Maupassant subverts the nineteenth century novel with Pierre, the legitimate son, having to make way for Jean, the illegitimate son and it’s odd how no-one in the novel thought that splitting the inheritance between Pierre and Jean was a viable solution.

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

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‘Femme Fatale’ (La Femme de Paul) by Guy de Maupassant

Femme Fatale (a.k.a. ‘Paul’s Mistress’) was first published in 1881 as La Femme de Paul. This story is one of my favourite of Maupassant’s stories; it includes many of his favourite motifs, i.e. boats and the water, cruelty, sexuality. The story takes place mostly on and around La Grenouillère (‘the frog pond’), a popular bathing spot on the Seine near Chatou, which may be familiar to us via the paintings by Renoir and Monet.

La Grenouillère (1869) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir Image source: www.Wikiart.org

La Grenouillère (1869) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Image source: http://www.Wikiart.org

The story opens with some brilliantly descriptive writing; ‘strapping great fellows’ and ‘women in light spring frocks’ are getting into their skiffs making for La Grenouillère, watched, enviously perhaps, by a crowd of suburbanites, boatmen and working men. The only ones left behind are Paul and Madeleine, a young couple apparently very much in love. They are on their way to La Grenouillère as well but they’re not in so much of a rush as they have only eyes for each other.

Paul and Madeleine finally make it to La Grenouillère; it’s three p.m., and it’s crowded.

On the land adjoining La Grenouillère strollers were sauntering under the gigantic trees which help to make this part of the island one of the most delightful parks imaginable. Busty women with peroxided hair and nipped-in waists could be seen, made up to the nines with blood red lips and black-kohled eyes. Tightly laced into their garish dresses they trailed in all their vulgar glory over the fresh green grass. They were accompanied by men whose fashion-plate accessories, light gloves, patent-leather boots, canes as slender as threads and absurd monocles made them look like complete idiots.

The crowd arrive at the floating restaurant, they’re noisy, singing away and occasionally brawling, most are drunk and there’s someone banging away at the piano with his feet as well as his hands.

The place reeked of vice and corruption and the dregs of Parisian society in all its rottenness gathered there: cheats, conmen and cheap hacks rubbed shoulders with under-age dandies, old roués and rogues, sleazy underworld types once notorious for things best forgotten mingled with other small-time crooks and speculators, dabblers in dubious ventures, frauds, pimps, and racketeers. Cheap sex, both male and female, was on offer in this tawdry meat-market of a place where petty rivalries were exploited, and quarrels picked over nothing in an atmosphere of fake gallantry where swords or pistols at dawn settled matters of highly questionable honour in the first place.

The weather is hot and many are bathing in the waters. Everyone is looking out to see who the next arrivals are. When a boat containing four women approaches, two in men’s clothing and smoking cigarettes, a shout rises up ‘Aye-aye! Lesbos!’ and they’re cheered as they come onto the island. The narrative now returns to Paul and Madeleine, and just as Paul is declaring his disapproval of the women and their lifestyle Madeleine recognises them and leaves him to join their party. It becomes apparent that Paul is besotted with Madeleine but Madeleine, it would seem, is just after a good time and enjoys Paul’s attention and money when there is nothing better to do.

La Grenouillère (1869) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir Image source: www.Wikiart.org

La Grenouillère (1869) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Image source: http://www.Wikiart.org

Paul goes off on his own and mopes about a bit but eventually they reconcile and go off for a walk in the country where they can be alone. But Madeleine has arranged to meet the Lesbos crowd later in the evening, much to Paul’s disgust, and she’s not going to let Paul stop her from having some fun. Paul realises that Madeleine is shallow but that doesn’t stop him from loving her. Madeleine doesn’t understand his intensity of feeling and feels suffocated by it. They both attend the evening’s revelries.

People were dancing. Couples faced each other and capered about madly, kicking their legs as high as their partners’ noses. The women, who appeared to have double-jointed legs and hips, leapt about in a frou-frou of lifted skirts, flashing their knickers and kicking their legs up over their heads with amazing agility. They wriggled their bellies and shook their bosoms, spreading about them the powerful smell of female flesh in sweat. The males squatted like toads in front of them making faces and obscene gestures.

Paul, the Romantic, appears to be out of place in this riotous palace of pleasure whereas Madeleine is quite at home here. I won’t reveal how the story ends but Maupassant rarely fails in giving us a satisfying ending to a story. But, as with many of his stories, it’s not just about the ending, the descriptive elements of the story are beautiful and Maupassant sketches out characters with only a few words; he chooses a few elements of their character to show us and it’s enough for us to feel that we know them.

La Grenouillère (1869) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir Image source: www.Wikiart.org

La Grenouillère (1869) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Image source: http://www.Wikiart.org

Although I’ve been reading the collection 88 More Stories (1950), in which this story appears as Paul’s Mistress, the quotes above are from the Penguin collection, A Parisian Affair and Other Stories (2004) which was translated by Siân Miles. Although there is nothing wrong with the older translation I think that Miles’s more modern style suits this story.

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

Like Death (Fort comme la Mort) by Guy de Maupassant, translated by John D. Lyons

like-death

Like Death (Fort comme la Mort), the fifth novel of Guy de Maupassant, renowned for his huge oeuvre of short stories, is the reason why I retrieved John D. Lyons’ French Literature, a Very Short Introduction from my TBR.  Having read my way all through Balzac’s La Comedie Humane and Zola’s Rougon-Macquart Cycle, and sampled a few other well-known classic French authors I belatedly thought it was about time I found something to put these works into context.  But alas, Maupassant doesn’t rate a mention in this VSI, which is fair enough in a little book of only 132 pages that doesn’t purport to be comprehensive.  So it is up to me to interpret the chapter on 19th century authors to draw my own conclusions about how the novel fits into the literary preoccupations of its era.

(Let’s hope there are no scholars reading this, eh?)

According to Lyons, the pace of change brought a nostalgia for the Ancien Régime and the Christian cultural heritage as well an idealisation of rural life.  I think that in Like Death you can see Maupassant sharing Balzac’s distaste for the French Revolution and the excesses of French society, and his character Annette shows the innocence and purity of a rural upbringing which is very quickly corrupted by the ambition to make a good marriage in Paris.

Maupassant was from the Naturalist school of writers as Zola was, though it seems from this novel that he was not as prone to depict the seamy side of life and was more interested in depicting bourgeois society.  While Zola’s novels in this decade traverse different aspects of the pace of change in everything from the pressures of the Industrial Revolution on mining in Germinal (1885) to The Ladies’ Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) (1883) showing the emergence of ruthless entrepreneurs and the impact of the Industrial Revolution on small artisan storekeepers, Maupassant is more interested in the psychology of his characters, narrating the story from the perspective of his two main characters, two lovers who find themselves conflicted by the onward pressures of ageing. It seems to me that Like Death (1889) has more in common with Zola’s rather un-Zola-like The Dream (Le Rêve) (1888) because it’s also a tale of love thwarted by reality.

Olivier Bertin is an award-winning society portraitist who is having a long-term affair with the Countess Anne de Guilleroy.  Her husband the Count, a deputy of agriculture in the government, is unaware of their liaison, even though Bertin is a regular visitor both to their home in Paris and to their country estate, the Chateau du Roncières in the Eure Valley.

Bertin’s rheumatism, however, has kept him away from the chateau for three years, and in that time Anne’s only daughter Annette has grown up to become a lovely young woman for whom an advantageous match has been arranged with the Marquis de Farandal when she comes to Paris.  Her childhood in the countryside, spent with her ageing grandmother, has made her into a young woman innocent of the shallow values of Parisian society (about which Maupassant is, through Olivier’s musings and occasionally less tactful dialogue, satirically scornful.)

At first Anne is only too delighted at Annette’s resemblance to herself in her youth, and they dress alike on the occasion when Annette is first presented to society.  But before long she realises what Bertin does not at first recognise himself – that he has fallen in love with the youthful duplicate of the woman he has loved for decades.

This love triangle of a different sort brings both Bertin and the Countess to a realisation of their own mortality.  Anne is only 40 while he is much older, but she becomes painfully aware of changes in her face and body, while Bertin’s dawning jealousy of the inane Farandal that Annette is supposed to marry makes him realise that the days when he could have anything he wanted, are waning. What makes this even worse is when his art is compared to the new Impressionists and dismissed as old-fashioned.

Maupassant writes of love, jealousy, ageing and fear of annihilation with empathy so that we see the tragedy of a couple ideally suited who can never marry and who come to regret that they cannot share the companionship they crave.  Bertin had enjoyed his liberty to spend his time in bachelor clubs and sporting pursuits, but when he feels the pain of young Annette’s indifference to him as a suitor, he yearns for the consolation and companionship of marriage.   These perils of vanity are shown at their most poignant when Anne hides herself away in her chateau so that her lover cannot see the ravages of mourning for her mother on her face.  The irony here is that she first met and enchanted Bertin when she was in mourning for her father, but in youth, the black of mourning dress only enhanced her beauty.  She feels dethroned.

This is the first time the New York Review has sent me one of their Classics collection to review, and unfortunately they have ignored my objection to reading uncorrected proof copies so I can’t quote anything to show you Maupassant’s style.  (I’ll spare you a list of the spelling mistakes in the hope that these are resolved in the final edition, but it does make me wonder about standards when I see examples like ‘hording’ and ‘gayety’ which any spell-check would identify as non-words.)

Though I wouldn’t call it elegant as they have at The Kirkus Review, the translation by Richard Howard seems mostly good to me, capturing Maupassant’s style (as I translate it from the copy at Gutenberg) with only occasional clumsiness and an ill-advised use of the slang ‘kids’ in place of Maupassant’s whimsical reference to ‘mice’ meaning small children.  Like Death is one of Maupassant’s lesser-known novels, so it is good to have a more recent translation though I would like to know of others as well.

Author: Guy de Maupassant
Title: Like Death (Fort comme la mort)
Publisher: New York Review Books , 2017, first published 1889
ISBN: : 9781681370323
Review copy courtesy of New York Review Books.

Available from January 2017. Pre-order from Fishpond: Like Death ($AUD 20.37 postage free)

©Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers, 21/12/16. See the lower RH menu at ANZ LitLovers for copyright restrictions.

Cross-posted at ANZ Litlovers

“A Parisian Bourgeois’ Sundays and Other Stories” by Guy de Maupassant

Maupassant_Parisian-Bourgeois-fcXC-700pxI found this book on my library’s catalogue and when I found out what it contained I was amazed that I hadn’t heard of it. It was only published in 1997, by Peter Owen, and it contains many stories that are unavailable elsewhere in English. The stories are translated by Marlo Johnston; she also translated a version of Sur l’eau (Afloat) for Peter Owen.

The collection contains fifteen stories – a list can be found on the Short Story Collections page. Two of the stories, A Parisian Bourgeois’ Sundays and The Rondoli Sisters take up nearly a hundred pages, whilst the other thirteen stories vary between five and ten pages each. In the introduction it is stated that twelve of the stories hadn’t been published in English before so this makes it very attractive for the English Maupassant fan. With each story there is some useful information on the original French title, publication date and whether there have been other English translations. From these notes the publishers state that The Avenger, The Rondoli Sisters and The Donkey are the only stories that had been published before but the stories A Parisian Bourgeois’ Sundays, Yveline Samoris and From Paris to Heyst do appear in the Project Gutenberg collection as Sundays of a Bourgeois, Yvette Samoris and The Trip of Le Horla respectively. Also, the story Doctors and Patients (Malades et médecins) seems to be a re-working of an earlier story called An Old Man (Un Vieux) which is in the Penguin collection called Selected Short Stories. Still, it’s great to have these stories in a new translation, especially with a story like The Rondoli Sisters; the publishers state that ‘it is one of those stories which suffered from Anglo-Saxon prudery, and the correct words were never used to describe the Italian girl, nor was her particular animal sensuality shown as Maupassant intended.’

So the book kicks off with A Parisian Bourgeois’ Sundays which is a very funny story involving the fifty-two year old clerk, M. Patissot, who has led a sedentary life. After a panic attack his doctor prescribes ‘plenty of exercise’ and the rest of the story consists of his attempts each Sunday to do this by taking walks in the country, going fishing, making friends, and by the end of the story getting involved in public meetings. The story doesn’t really go anywhere but the reader should just enjoy the situations that M. Patissot finds himself in. I won’t go into further details as Guy’s post can be found here.

The Rondoli Sisters is one of Maupassant’s best stories. It is narrated by Pierre Jouvenet who recounts a trip to Italy in 1874. He is a reluctant traveller who doesn’t enjoy the disturbance to his routine; he finds it all ‘tiring and pointless’. The biggest horror is sleeping in hotel beds, especially when he considers all the people that have slept in that very bed.

I cannot lift the sheet of a bed in a hotel without a shiver of disgust. What was done in it the previous night? What unclean, repulsive people have slept on these mattresses? I think of all the fearful people one jostles every day, the ugly hunchbacks, the pimply skin, the black hands that make you think of the feet, and the rest. I think of encounters with people who assail your nose with the sickening smells of garlic and humanity. I think of the misshapen, the purulent, the sweating invalids, all the ugliness and dirtiness of man.

And, amusingly, it goes on. To alleviate his horror of travel he takes along a friend of his, Paul Pavilly, who is obsessed, but not very successful, with women.

The train journey is uneventful until they reach Marseille, when an attractive, but sullen, girl of about twenty joins their carriage. Paul is immediately obsessed by her and tries to get her to talk but is unsuccesful. It turns out that the girl is Italian and since only Pierre knows the language Paul pesters Pierre to keep trying to get the girl to talk. Virtually all they can get out of her are shrugs and ‘What do I care?’ but she does take up their offer of food. When they’ve reached Genoa, their destination, things suddenly change:

   Then, suddenly, she asked me, ‘Do you want me to come with you?’
   I was struck with such stupefaction that I did not understand.
   ‘What, with us? What do you mean?’
   She repeated, in a more and more furious tone, ‘Do you want me to go with you straight away?’
   ‘That suits me; but where would you like to go? Where do you want me to take you?’
   She shrugged her shoulders with supreme indifference.
   ‘Wherever you like! It’s all the same to me.’
   Twice she repeated: ‘Che mi fa?
   ‘Well…if we’re going to a hotel?’
   She said most contemptuously, ‘Well then. let’s go to a hotel.’

Comically Paul is now panic-stricken whereas Pierre is quite amused. Things only get worse when the girl, whom they now know is called Francesca Rondoli, seems to prefer Pierre to Paul. I won’t reveal any more of the story but it is very funny and quite risqué. I compared some parts of the story with the version on Project Gutenburg and I can see what the translator meant about ‘Anglo-Saxon prudery’, as almost any mention of sex is glossed over or missed out, so it’s best to read this version if possible.

The Donkey ends the collection and is a bit of a shock after the previous stories. It’s about two unscrupulous and casually sadistic characters called Chicot and Mailloche. They’re in their boat fishing and poaching rabbits when they see a woman pulling an old donkey along a footpath. She’s taking the donkey to be slaughtered but Chicot offers her some money for it there and then. But what would they want with an old donkey? Well, if you’re a bit queasy about reading about animal cruelty you probably won’t want to read this one. They then go off to an inn and con the innkeeper. It is actually a brilliant story, brilliantly told, but it’s probably more shocking these days than when it was published.

The remaining stories are mostly those that have never before been translated into English. They’re mostly shorter pieces but interesting nonetheless. There is a story about a young Napoleon who narrowly escaped death at the hands of Corsican monarchists, a story about farting in bed, a story about kept women & kept men and several others.

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

‘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.

‘Mouche’ (short story) by Guy de Maupassant

I’ve been in a real short story mood lately and have enjoyed re-reading some favourite stories as well as discovering new ones. I have particularly been reading a lot of Maupassant’s stories and one of my favourites is called Mouche, which appears at the end of the Penguin edition called Selected Short Stories and has the subtitle Reminiscences of a Rowing Man. Maupassant loved boats and the sea and as a result, a lot of his stories take place within this environment.

Be warned that I reveal the whole plot in what follows. Unlike some of Maupassant’s stories that have surprise endings I don’t think that knowing the ending of this one particularly harms the reader’s enjoyment as it easily stands up to repeated readings.

Mouche starts off with the elderly narrator reminiscing about a carefree period in his early twenties when he was skint and compares it with his current life:

I was a penniless clerk at the time; now I’m a successful man who can throw away huge sums to gratify a passing whim. I had a thousand modest, unattainable desires in my heart which gilded my existence with fantastic hopes. Today, I really can’t think of anything that would induce me to get out of the armchair where I sit dozing.

He fondly remembers that during this period he lived with four friends in a dormitory; they were all quite different but got on with each other perfectly. They spent most of their time on their boat, the only problem being that they didn’t have a woman alongside to ‘provide excitement, amusement and distraction’ – but no ordinary woman would do, they wanted someone ‘unusual, odd, ready for anything’. Well, one day one of the friends, N’a-qu’un-Oeil, brought along a lively, skinny girl who quickly captivated the five young men. I love Maupassant’s initial description of her:

She was a sweet girl but not really pretty, a rough sketch of a woman with a little of everything in her, one of those silhouettes which artists draw in three strokes on the tablecloth in a café after dinner, between a glass of brandy and a cigarette. Nature sometimes turns out creatures like that.

She was soon christened Mouche (fly) though no one could quite remember why. She talked incessantly and the men loved hearing the outlandish things she came up with which often made them laugh. All the men found her attractive and she ended up sleeping with all of them. Only N’a-qu’un-Oeil seemed to be unaware of what was going on, until he let slip a remark that revealed he knew. After that the others backed off and left N’a-qu’un-Oeil and Mouche alone as lovers.

After about three months Mouche started acting strangely, more irritable. N’a-qu’un-Oeil revealed to his friends that she was pregnant but they should not try to determine the father of the baby, but instead they should all agree to adopt the child. When Mouche heard of their decision she was overcome with gratitude for her friends.

However, one day when trying to embark from the boat she slipped, banged her belly against the quayside and fell into the water. Her friends pulled her from the water but she eventually miscarried. The young men stayed with her during this difficult period and were upset with her misfortune. The story culminates with the following wonderful ending:

Then N’a-qu’un-Oeil, who perhaps loved her more than any of us, hit on a wonderful idea to calm her down. Kissing her tear-dimmed eyes, he said: “Cheer up, Mouche dear, cheer up. We’ll make you another one.”

The sense of humour which was in her very bones suddenly came alive, and half convinced, half laughing, with tears still in her eyes and her heart full of pain, she looked around at us all and asked: “Honest?”

And we answered as one man: “Honest.”

This ending is just wonderful, in part, I feel, because the whole story is not really what we would expect from a nineteenth century auhor, even a French one. The topics of free love, alternative lifestyles, guilt-free sex are ones we don’t really associate with the nineteenth century and this may be the reason why it’s not included in the Victorian collection that’s available on Project Gutenberg.

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

Afloat (Sur l’eau)

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I am alone, really alone, really free. The smoke of the train runs along the seaside; while I float in a winged home that is rocked and cradled; pretty as a bird, tiny as a nest, softer than a hammock, wandering over the waters at the caprice of the wind, independent and free! To attend to me and sail my boat, I have two sailors at my call, and books and provisions for a fortnight.

Afloat is a delightful surprise! De Maupassant kept a diary during a voyage in his yacht, the Bel-Ami. Included are descriptions of some of the places he visited and comments on interesting past visits or histories.

Cornell University Library graciously provided images of Laura Ensor’s translation of Sur l’eau (1888) via Internet Archive. Free Literature converted the page images to text and Afloat is now available free in numerous formats at Project Gutenberg.