‘‘Boule de Suif’’ was first published in 1880 in the anthology Les Soirées de Medan. Often considered his greatest work, ‘‘Boule de Suif’’ was published the same year that Guy de Maupassant made his poetic debut with Des Vers. The theme of the anthology of short stories was the Franco–Prussian War from a decade earlier. Other writers contributed, including Émile Zola and J. K. Huysmans, but it was Maupassant’s short story, often considered the best example of naturalism, that has reigned as the most famous.
Maupassant is known for his insightful descriptions of characters and their actions and dialogues. His ability to capture a scene and recreate it in literary form has earned him a notable place in the history of naturalists. Maupassant’s ‘‘Boule de Suif’’ is not only a sound reflection of retreating France during the Franco–Prussian War, but a resounding exploration of morality and ethics in a divided society. The title character is caught in a repetitious cycle of self-examination that has forced her into a circular ethical conundrum. All the while, her position is created not on her own accord, but through the manipulation of spiteful members of the respectable social order. The complexity that lies beneath Maupassant’s imagery, his representation of humanity, and his ability to convey vibrant humor separates him from his contemporaries, placing him in a class only matched by Gustave Flaubert.