‘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.

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

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.