Extraordinary Excerpts: ‘A Family’

I have started reading the second volume of Maupassant’s stories that I bought over a year ago, titled 88 More Stories, which was published by Cassell & Co. Ltd in 1950 with translations by Ernest Boyd and Storm Jameson. One story contained in this volume, called A Family, 88-stories02-x-700pxis a short piece where the narrator visits a friend he hasn’t seen since the friend married, fifteen years before. He barely recognises the friend, who is now quite fat, and the description of the friend’s wife is brilliantly dismissive and also a bit nasty; I won’t include it here but she is called, amongst other things, ‘a procreating machine made of flesh’, due no doubt to her five children. The husband is also dismissed in a similar fashion as ‘a reproductive animal who spent his nights generating children between a sleep and a sleep, in his provincial house, like a rabbit in a hutch.’

After being introduced to all the children the narrator is also introduced to the wife’s eighty-seven year old grandfather who is hard of hearing. The narrator is told that the old man keeps the children amused especially at meal times as he is very greedy. And so, that leads me to this excerpt:

    Dinner was begun.
    “Look,” murmured Simon. Grandpapa did not like the soup, and refused to eat it. He was forced to do so, for the sake of his health; the servant forcibly thrust a spoonful into his mouth, while he blew violently to keep from swallowing the broth; it spurted out like a fountain, all over the table and over those sitting nearest him.
    The children shrieked with laughter, while their father, highly pleased, repeated: “Funny old man, isn’t he?”
    Throughout the meal he monopolised the attention of the whole family. His eyes devoured the dishes on the table, and his frantically trembling hands tried to snatch them and pull them to him. Sometimes they were placed almost in his reach, so that the company might see his desperate efforts, his palsied clutches, the heart-broken appeal manifested in his whole body, his eyes, his mouth, his nose, which sniffed them. His mouth watered so that he dribbled all over his napkin, uttering inarticulate whines. And the entire family was de­lighted by this odious and grotesque torture.
    Then a very small piece would be put on his plate, and he would eat it with feverish voracity, so that he might have some­thing else the sooner.
    When the sweet rice came, he almost had a fit. He moaned with longing.
    “You have eaten too much; you shan’t have any,” shouted Gontran, and they made as though he were not to be given any.
    Then he began to cry. And as he wept he trembled still more violently, while all the children roared with laughter.
    At last his portion, a very small one, was given him; and, as he ate the first mouthful of the sweet, he made a comically gluttonous noise in his throat, and a movement of the neck like that of a duck swallowing too large a morsel of food.
    When he had finished, he began to stamp his feet for more.
    Seized with pity at the heart-rending spectacle of the tortures inflicted on this ridiculous Tantalus, I implored my friend on his behalf:
    “Do give him a little more rice.”
    “Oh! no, my dear chap,” replied Simon; “if he ate too much at his age, it might be bad for him.”
    I was silent, musing on this speech. O Morality, O Logic, O Wisdom! At his age! So, they deprived him of the only pleasure he could still enjoy, out of care for his health! His health! What was that inert and palsied wreck to do with his health if he had it? Were they husbanding his days? His days? How many: ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred? And why? For his own sake? Or was it in order to preserve to the family the spectacle of his impotent greed?
    He had nothing to do in this life, nothing. Only one desire, one pleasure, remained to him; why not give him full measure of that last pleasure, give it him until he died of it?
    At last, after a long game of cards, I went up to my room to bed; I was sad, very, very sad.

I think the narrator’s thoughts on the family’s cruel treatment of the old man reflects our own feelings on the subject but the family seem oblivious of their cruelty. Haven’t we all found ourselves in a similar situation, maybe not so extreme, where we witness something like this but are unsure whether to intervene? This is a brilliant story by Maupassant; one of his stories that is just a short episode, a snapshot of contemporary life that he did so well.

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

176 Stories by Maupassant

88-Stories02-X-700px I was having a nose around on my local library’s catalogue the other day just to see if they had any more Maupassant collections that I’d missed when I came across this title, 88 Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant. There was little additional information other than it was published in 1950 and that it was part of the library’s reserve stock. So, I took it out just to see what it contained. I was expecting it to consist of the translations that are available on Project Gutenberg (PG) but was surprised to see that they were different translations by Ernest Boyd and Storm Jameson. I’m assuming that they were translated specifically for this edition but it is possible that they were earlier translations as the book states: ‘First published in this edition 1950’. Does that imply that there were earlier editions?

I’ve had a quick look at some of the stories and I’m pleased to see that there are many stories that are not included in the PG collection titled The Entire Original Maupassant Short Stories. This may seem odd but the situation is this; there are 311 stories in the French collected edition, there are only 181 in the ‘Entire’ PG collection and there is also the problem that there are an additional 65 fake Maupassant stories that often get included in older English and American collections. As far as I can tell there don’t appear to be any of the ‘fakes’ in the ’88 Stories’ collection and some of those that are newly available (to me at least) are the 80 page story, Yvette, Our Friends the English, The Odyssey of a Prostitute, Old Boniface’s Crime and more. Now, it’s true that there are other collections available such as the eight-volume set, also on Project Gutenberg, called The Works of Guy de Maupassant and the Delphi Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant but they seem to be collections of the Victorian translations and the ‘dodgy’ St. Dunstan Society collections whence the ‘fakes’ originated. For example, the Delphi version claims to have ‘288 short stories – the largest collection of Maupassant’s short stories available in English’….but I’ve had a quick look at that collection and it contains quite a lot, and possibly all, of the ‘fakes’. If it does have all of the ‘fakes’ then it can only really claim to have 223 Maupassant stories which are probably the combined versions from those available on PG. As I delve further into these translations I will hope to clarify the situation.

I was so pleased with the ’88 Stories’ book that I looked on the internet to see if I could buy a copy, when I discovered that there was a second volume called 88 More Stories by Guy de Maupassant also published in 1950 by Cassell & Co. Ltd. Well, I had to get both volumes didn’t I? After an intial scan through the second volume it doesn’t look as if it will have as many of the ‘new’ translations as the first book but it does have a lot of the stories that are only available in the PG collections. As a collection, it actually contains a lot more of the more popular stories such as The Horla, Boule de Suif, Madame Tellier’s Establishment etc. Both books should help me in my quest to read the most recent translations as possible, ultimately I’d like to be able to avoid the older Victorian ones entirely. The only down side of these ’88’ books is that the translation does, at times, seem just as stuffy as the older ones. Take, for example, the opening sentences of the story Allouma and see which you prefer:

    A friend had told me that if, during my travels in Algeria, I happened to be near Bordj-Ebbaba, I was to be sure to visit his old friend Auballe, who had settled down there.
    These names had passed from my mind, and the settler was far from my thoughts, when by pure chance I came across him.
    For a month I had been roaming afoot over that magnificent country which stretches from Algiers to Cherchell, Orleansville and Tiaret.

One of my friends had said to me: —
    “If you happen to be near Bordj-Ebbaba while you are in Algeria, be sure and go to see my old friend Auballe, who has settled there.”
    I had forgotten the name of Auballe and of Ebbaba, and I was not thinking of this planter, when I arrived at his house by pure accident. For a month, I had been wandering on foot through that magnificent district which extends from Algiers to Cherchell, Orleansville, and Tiaret.

For me, the second from the Delphi Works collection, is far better than the first which is from the ’88 Short Stories’ book. The ‘roaming afoot’ is particularly annoying. So, only time will tell if these books will be as beneficial as they appear to be at the moment.

I am currently trying to match and cross-reference all these different translations to the original French versions on the Story Details page on this blog. I’ve still got to look at the ‘Works’ collection and now have these ’88’ collections as well. The only problem is lack of time, but I’m hoping to complete it over the next few months. At the end it would be nice if we could identify a translation of every story by Maupassant.

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

‘Boule de Suif’ by Guy de Maupassant

Boule de Suif is one of Maupassant’s more famous stories and it is the one that first made him famous. The story first appeared in the 1880 collection of stories called Les Soirées de Médan which were all centred around the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1. The collection also included stories by Zola and Huysmans. When Flaubert, Maupassant’s mentor, read it he was ecstatic, he wrote:

I am impatient to tell you that I consider Boule de Suif a masterpiece. Yes, young man! Nothing more, nothing less. It is the work of a master. It is original in conception, well constructed from beginning to end, and written in excellent style.

I think that most people who read the story today will agree with Flaubert as did the readers at the time of publication.

The story opens with the defeated French army passing through Rouen. The Prussians soon occupy the town and the soldiers are billeted with the townspeople. Le Havre is still in the hands of the French and several of the wealthy inhabitants of Rouen, with the Prussians’ permission, arrange a carriage destined for Le Havre. They leave at daybreak while snow is still falling. The occupants of the coach consist of a petits bourgeois couple, a bourgeois couple, an aristocratic couple, two nuns, a democrat Cornudet and hidden away in the corner is someone that the others disapprove of:

The woman, one of those usually known as a good-time girl, was famous for the premature portliness which had earned her the nickname Boule de Suif. Small, round as a barrel, fat as butter and with fingers tightly jointed like strings of small sausages, her glowing skin and the enormous bosom which strained under the constraints of her dress — as well as her freshness, which was a delight to the eye — made her hugely desirable and much sought after. She had a rosy apple of a face, a peony bud about to burst into bloom. Out of it looked two magnificent dark eyes shaded by thick black lashes. Further down was a charming little mouth complete with invitingly moist lips and tiny, gleaming pearly-white teeth. She was said to possess a variety of other inestimable qualities.

The respectable women disapprovingly discuss her presence in the carriage whilst the businessmen talk of business matters. The carriage makes slow progress through the snow and because of the war there are no inns open. Everyone becomes hungry, and it turns out that Boule de Suif is the only one who has brought along provisions. Slowly, they accept her offers of food and as a result they become friendly towards her. Although the others are leaving Rouen mostly for monetary reasons, Boule de Suif is leaving because she can’t bear to see the sight of Prussian soldiers occupying a French town.

They arrive at Tôtes in the evening. They are greeted by a Prussian officer and allowed to take rooms in a hotel. Once they are settled the innkeeper tells Boule de Suif that the officer would like to see her. She reluctantly goes but returns, cursing the officer. The following day the travellers are prevented from continuing their journey by order of the officer. It turns out that the officer will only allow them to continue their journey once Boule de Suif has slept with him. The officer sends the innkeeper to find out if she has changed her mind but she indignantly refuses to capitulate:

Boule de Suif remained standing. At first very pale, she suddenly turned crimson, choking so much with rage that she was unable to speak. Finally she burst out: ‘Tell that bastard, that sod of a Prussian, that I never will, d’you hear? Never, never, never!’

If you don’t want to know the ending of the story you may wish to stop reading at this point.

The others are initially shocked and angrily disapprove of the officer’s uncouth behaviour and sympathise with Boule de Suif’s position. But, as the days drag on they become less sympathetic towards her. They begin to resent her, a lowly prostitute, preventing them from continuing their journey. After all, they reason, all she’s being asked to do is what she does for a living anyway. They try to convince her to give in to the officer’s demands but have little luck at first. When the nuns reveal that they are trying to get to Le Havre to nurse French soldiers Boule de Suif eventually goes to see the officer. Meanwhile, the other travellers celebrate, getting drunk and telling risqué stories. Only Cornudet, the democrat, seems to be concerned over the way they’re behaving.

The following day the carriage is allowed to leave. Boule de Suif enters the carriage timidly and everyone is embarrased.

At first no one spoke. Boule de Suif dared not look up. She felt simultaneously angry with her neighbours, humiliated by having given in to them, and defiled by the caresses of the Prussian into whose arms they had so hypocritically thrown her.

But her humiliation is not over yet. Now, with normality restored, they can ignore Boule de Suif completely and to really dig the knife in they all get their parcels of food out and start tucking in. Boule de Suif of course has not got any food with her; the others ignore her as they eat and chat away. Their incredible hypocrisy angers her but she is soon overcome with tears; Mme Loiseau tells the others that she’s crying ‘from shame, that’s all’.

The travellers are a good cross-section of French ‘civilised society’, with the exception of Boule de Suif of course, but it is only she that is patriotic, honest and honourable. The others are revealed to be mean-spirited, callous, greedy and self-centred. Even the nuns are shown in a bad light as it is their story of helping the wounded soldiers that was the final argument that convinced Boule de Suif to go against her own decision. And in the final scene no-one, not even Cornudet, shows her any compassion or shares any food with her. Instead, she just sits in the carriage sobbing ashamed of herself and angry at the others.

The Flaubert quotation was taken from Maupassant (1950) by Francis Steegmuller and the Boule de Suif quotations were taken from Siân Miles’ translation from the Penguin collection, A Parisian Affair and Other Stories (2004).

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

Fake Maupassants

In an appendix to Francis Steegmuller’s biography, titled Maupassant (1950, Collins) (aka Maupassant: A Lion in the Path) the author notes that some sixty-five stories that have been attributed to Maupassant are indeed ‘fake Maupassants’. The source of these fakes go back to a 1903 seventeen volume collection of the complete works of Maupassant that was published by M. Walter Dunne. The translations were by anonymous translators and according to Steegmuller ‘for the most part of appalling crudity’. Subsequent editions gave the publisher’s name as ‘The St. Dunstan Society’ or similar. Steegmuller notes that none of the identified fakes have ever appeared in any French edition of Maupassant’s works and for some of the stories an original author has been identified. These stories have appeared in subsequent collections and may be encountered when reading older collections of Maupassant’s stories. It looks like the collection of stories on Project Gutenberg under the heading The Works of Guy de Maupassant, Volumes 1-8 contain at least some of these fake stories.

To help the reader identify which ones are genuine and which are fake I have listed Steegmuller’s original list. The list contains the English and purported French title as listed in the Dunne collection as well as a Steegmuller’s original notes:

1. Babette (Babette)
2. Mamma Stirling (Maman Stirling) (By René Maizeroy)
3. Lilie Lala (Lilie Lala) (By René Maizeroy)
4. The Bandmaster’s Sister (Lucie)
5. The Mountebanks (Les Jongleurs)
6. Ugly (Difforme)
7. The Debt (Fanny)
8. The Artist (L’ Artiste)
9. False Alarm (L’Epouvante)
10. The Venus of Braniza (La Vénus de Braniza)
11. La Morillonne (La Morillone)
12. The Sequel to a Divorce (Rencontre) (Not Maupassant’s story entitled RencontreThe Meeting)
13. The Clown (Le Scapin)
14. Mademoiselle (Mademoiselle)
15. The Man with the Dogs (L’Homme aux Chiens)
16. In Various Roles (Wanda)
17. Countess Satan (Comtesse Satan)
18. A Useful House (Finesse)
19. The Viaticum (Viaticum)
20. The Hermaphrodite (L’Hermaphrodite) (By René Maizeroy)
21. Violated (Violé)
22. Ghosts (Le Noyé) (Not Maupassant’s story entitled Le NoyéThe Drowned Man)
23. The New Sensation (Parisine)
24. Virtue (Chasteté)
25. The Thief (Le Voleur) (This story, about a girl’s lover discovered in her house at night by her parents, was written by René Maizeroy. It is not Maupassant’s Le Voleur, which concerns a group of painters and a thief discovered in a studio)
26. In Flagrante Delictu (In Flagrante Delictu)
27. On Perfumes (Les Parfums)
28. In His Sweetheart’s Livery (Irma)
29. The Confession (Confession) (Not one of Maupassant’s stories entitled La Confession)
30. An Unfortunate Likeness (Similitude)
31. A Night in Whitechapel (Une Nuit) (Not Maupassant’s story entitled La Nuit—Cauchemar, Night : A Nightmare)
32. Lost (Craque)
33. The Relics (Vieux Objets) (Not Maupassant’s story entitled Vieux ObjetsOld Objects ; nor his La RéliqueThe Relic)
34. A Rupture (Lalie Spring) (No relation to a story by René Maizeroy entitled Lalie Spring and included in Maizeroy’s collected volume bearing the same title)
35. Margot’s Tapers (Noces de Margot)
36. The Accent (L’Accent)
37. Profitable Business (Charité)
38. The Last Step (Une Ruse) (Not Maupassant’s story entitled Une Ruse A Ruse)
39. A Misalliance (Mésalliance)
40. An Honest Ideal (Désabusée)
41. Delila (Delila)
42. The Ill-Omened Groom (Zoë)
43. The Odalisque of Senichou (L’ Odalisque de Senichou)
44. The Real One and the Other (Mlle. Dardenne)
45. The Carter’s Wench (Glaizette)
46. The Carnival of Love (Carnival d’ Amour)
47. The Man with the Blue Eyes (L’Homme aux Yeux Bleus)
48. A Good Match (Angélique)
49. The Old Maid (Marie des Anges)
50. The Marquis (Le Marquis)
51. A Deer Park in the Provinces (En Campagne)
52. An Adventure (Une Aventure)
53. The Jennet (La Genêt)
54. Under the Yoke (Wanda Pulska)
55. A Fashionable Woman (Goldskind)
56. The Upstart (Le Parvenu)
57. Happiness (Le Bonheur) (Not Maupassant’s story entitled Le Bonheur)
58. The White Lady (La Dame Blanche)
59. Wife and Mistress (Imprudence) (Not Maupassant’s story entitled Imprudence)
60. Sympathy (Compassion)
61. Julot’s Opinion (Julot)
62. The Lancer’s Wife (La Revanche) (Not Maupassant’s story entitled La RevancheRevenge)
63. Caught (Valeska)
64. Jeroboam (Jeroboam)
65. Virtue in the Ballet (Henriette)

“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.

Maupassant Quotations

Maupassant_A-Day-in-CountryI’ve been reading more and more of Maupassant’s stories recently. Many of the collections have a large number of the same stories which becomes a bit frustrating at times as there are so many that I want to read but the same stories keep appearing. One of the collections that I really enjoyed, but haven’t got round to reviewing yet, is A Day in the Country and Other Stories, published by Oxford University Press and translated by David Coward. So, I thought I’d share a number of quotes from the book.

I always enjoy quotations pulled from a book. I like the way they stand on their own and can sometimes take on a different meaning – people may scream that they’ve been taken out of context, but I sometimes like that. One thing I do worry about (only slightly though) is when we quote a fiction writer, who is usually writing from a fictional character’s point of view, and we attribute the quotation to the writer, as if what is said is the writer’s beliefs, views etc. Rather than say this is a quote from Author X, I would much rather say that this is a quote from a character, or narrator, from a book or story by Author X. Does this bother anyone else?

Anyway here goes:

There were office-worn gents with yellow faces, bent backs, and one shoulder set slightly higher than the other from spending hours hunched over desks. And their sad, anxious faces spoke volumes about their domestic troubles, never-ending money worries, and all those old hopes which had been dashed for good; for they all belonged to the army of poor threadbare drudges who just about make ends meet in some dismal plasterboard house with a flowerbed for a garden in the rubbish-and-slag-heap belt on the outskirts of Paris.
― From Family Life

Philippe-Auguste was an ugly child, with uncombed hair and dirt all over him, and the face of a cretin.
― From Family Life

Her name was Marroca, probably her maiden name, and she pronounced it as though it had fifteen r’s in it.
― From Marroca

All at once, as though a thick veil had been whisked aside, he clearly saw the wretchedness―the bottomless, monotonous wretchedness―of his existence. The wretchedness which had been, which was, and which was yet to come. His last days indistinguishable from the first, with nothing ahead of him or behind him or around him, nothing in his heart, nothing anywhere.
― From Strolling

Madame Chantal―a large woman whose ideas always strike me as being square-shaped, like stones dressed by a mason―was in the habit of concluding any political discussion with the remark: ‘As ye sow, so shall ye reap’. Why have I always imagined that Madame Chantal’s ideas are square? I’ve no idea, but everything she says goes into that shape in my mind: a block―a large one―with four symmetrical angles.
― From Mademoiselle Pearl

Daylight does not lend itself to terror: objects and people are plain to see; and we encounter there only those things which dare to show themselves in the glare of day. But night, opaque night denser than walls, night, empty and infinite and so black and fathomless that terrifying things reach out and touch
us, night when we feel horror stirring, mysteriously prowling―night seemed to him to hide some unknown, imminent, threatening danger. What could it be?
― From The Little Roque Girl

Solitude is obviously dangerous for people with active brains. We need men around us who have ideas and like talking. Leave us alone for any length of time, and we start filling the void with supernatural creatures.
― From Le Horla

I am lost! Someone has taken over my mind and is controlling it! Someone is in command of all my actions, movements, and thoughts. I am nothing inside, merely a spectator enslaved and terrified by everything I do.
― From Le Horla

Maupassant_Mme-Tellier-fcX-700pxWhilst I’m on a roll, I’ll add a couple that I really liked from The House of Madame Tellier and Other Stories which was published by Everyman and translated by Marjorie Laurie.

She was, in truth, one of those bigoted fanatics, one of those stubborn Puritans, whom England breeds in such numbers, those pious and insupportable old maids, who haunt all the tables d’hôte in Europe, who ruin Italy, poison Switzerland, and render the charming towns on the Riviera uninhabitable, introducing everywhere their weird manias, their manners of petrified vestals, their indescribable wardrobes, and a peculiar odour of rubber, as if they were put away in a waterproof case every night.
― From Miss Harriet

And finally, this one, which despite what I said above, probably is pretty close to Maupassant’s real views as he loved boats and water:

I have an immoderate passion for water; for the sea, though so vast, so restless, so beyond one’s comprehension; for rivers, beautiful, yet fugitive and elusive; but especially for marshes, teeming with all that mysterious life of the creatures that haunt them. A marsh is a whole world within a world, a different world, with a life of its own, with its own permanent denizens, its passing visitors, its voices, its sounds, its own strange mystery.
― From Love

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

‘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.