A coach is making its way along the icy road to Havre. Its passengers are silently eyeing one another, trying to reach the port in spite of the war-torn countryside and the advancing Prussian troops. Self-conscious of respectability, they are uncomfortable sharing a coach with “a member of the courtesan class,” who is nicknamed “Boule de Suif” (ball of fat) because she is so round. The journey is long and tedious, so that when Boule de Suif takes some food from her traveling basket and good-heartedly offers to share it among the others, the passengers—begrudgingly at first and then avidly—eat and drink their fill; even the two nuns indulge with comic delicacy. Before long, they are all talking amiably about patriotism and the evil Prussians.
That night, the coach stops at an inn behind the Prussian lines and the passengers are given separate rooms. During the night, officious Monsieur Loiseau keeps his eyes to the keyhole of his door, trying to observe “the mysteries of the corridor.” He sees the rogue Cornudet make advances to Boule de Suif, but she rebuffs him, insisting on maintaining her dignity in the midst of the enemy. A Prussian officer, the presiding “law” in that part of the country, has set up his headquarters in the inn and is staying in a room just down the hall. Under such circumstances, she tells Cornudet, one must keep one’s self-respect.
The next morning, the passengers find the coach unharnessed and...
(The entire section is 499 words.)