Critical Essay on ‘‘Boule de Suif‘‘
In ‘‘Boule de Suif,’’ Guy de Maupassant tells the tale of Boule de Suif, a short, plump, inviting French prostitute, who is fleeing the advancing Germans during the Franco–Prussian War. Although seemingly immoral by profession, Boule de Suif actually adheres to a code of ethics. By the very nature of her profession, Boule de Suif feels as though she is spreading happiness through her service: Her clientele leaves with a greater level of satisfaction, thus adding to the greater good. In addition, Boule de Suif has several imperatives that she makes her best attempt to stand behind. Boule de Suif believes that these axioms should never be broken, namely that there should always be a different means to achieve the same end that would not require doing acts in opposition to her imperatives. Unfortunately, Boule de Suif, by following two codes of ethics—one utilitarian, the other ontological— lands herself in the ethically uncertain apex between these two opposed moral philosophies.
Utilitarianism is probably the most famous normative ethical dogma in the English-speaking history of moral philosophy. The doctrine’s purpose is to explain why some actions are right and others are wrong. Although it had roots in philosophical history and although it is still widely appealed to by many modern philosophers, utilitarianism reached its peak in the late eighteenth century and the first twenty-five years of the nineteenth century. The leading...
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Kant’s Moral Argument for God in Relation to Maupassant’s Story
The protagonist of Guy de Maupassant’s ‘‘Boule de Suif’’ learns that virtuous acts do not always reap rewards. In fact, her altruism or self-sacrifice jeopardizes, rather than improves, her own life. Boule de Suif is a victim of her own good nature. In her acts of charity she refuses to see how others have treated her. Such acts only win her even more disdain or hatred from the group.
Much of the interaction among the group of travelers in Maupassant’s story revolves around the character nicknamed Boule de Suif. Throughout the narrative, she is put in a self-sacrificing position by a group of strangers who barely recognize or appreciate her generosity. First, because she is a prostitute, Boule de Suif receives the group’s disdain. However, when she is the only traveler to produce a basket of food, it is the hungry travelers who eventually dine with her, albeit reluctantly. And, when captured by German and Prussian officers, these same travelers turn to Boule de Suif, insisting she respond to the Prussian soldier’s demands to see her despite her resistance to the idea. Ultimately she does accept, exclaiming, ‘‘All right . . . but I’m only doing it for your sakes.’’ Finally, when Boule de Suif learns that the enemy wants to sleep with her, she is appalled, as is the group; yet the group thinks nothing of exploiting her to that end, pressuring her to comply for their sakes.
Generosity in the narrative is not a two-way...
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The Decline and Fall of Elisabeth Rousset: Text and Context in Maupassant’s 'Boule de suife'
As can be discerned from this outline, ‘‘Boule de suif’’ is constructed upon the interplay of three thematic ‘‘sub-codes’’—the nutritional, the politicoeconomic and the military—with the main code which is sexual. To understand the way in which these codes function, it is necessary to consider the text in both its diachronic and synchronic dimensions. It is also useful, although not essential, to place ‘‘Boule de suif’’ in the context of Maupassant’s war stories, on the one hand, and his ‘‘whore’’ stories, on the other. It is not by chance that the two themes frequently collide, and that his most unforgettable prostitutes are war heroes as well.
Let us begin, then, with the sexual code. As a prostitute, Boule de suif is the incarnation of sexuality. She is a ‘‘marchande d’amour’’, her marchandise being her body. Aggression is the sine qua non of her trade. In the eyes of society, she is immoral, ignoble; yet, as Forestier has pointed out, Boule de suif, like many of Maupassant’s prostitutes, has managed to retain her self-respect by transferring her moral sensibility to a domain other than the sexual. She thus possesses a sense of dignity despite public opinion, and when the whispered insults reach her ears at the outset of the journey, she is not intimidated; rather, she looks directly at her insulters with ‘‘un regard tellement provocant et hardi qu’un grand silence aussitôt...
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Chapter 3: Maupassant’s Women: His Mother and His Heroines
I The Growth of a Favoring Prejudice
Maupassant was not showing us a Romantic ‘‘femme fatale’’ when he repeatedly told tales in which the woman gained ascendancy over the man. His admiration for woman grew out of personal contact and observation, not from fear inspired by a superstitious cult. Among the strangely few men who enjoyed Maupassant’s unstinting admiration, most had chosen celibacy and so were relatively safe from acts of weakness that so often characterize a husband’s behavior and which would have lowered them in his esteem. Flaubert, of course, was so far in the vanguard of this select few as to be the god of the microcosm.
To Maupassant, marriage was a form of servitude which the female refused to accept because she recognized it as such, and to which the male submitted while deluding himself with the notion that he was free, the master. The calm demeanor and unflinching resolve of Maupassant’s mother inspired early his admiration for woman and caused him to question the myth of male superiority. Madame de Maupassant’s influence upon her son can never be accurately evaluated, for the more one ponders his work the more one is struck with her presence in the character of heroine after heroine. Far more accurate assessments can be made of the influence of Maupassant’s father in shaping the son’s prejudicial view of husbands as self-centered weaklings who deserved cuckolding, and of the role his disappointment in...
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The Finest Short Story?
De Maupassant was, of course, a born writer. Observe, writer. No one ever said what he wanted to say with a nicer exactitude or a more certain effectiveness than did de Maupassant. The sentence was a marvellous tool in his hands. But, having admitted that, one has the right to inquire: what did he want to say? What of importance had he seen? We cannot believe, for ourselves, that de Maupassant’s imagination and insight were of the first order, or even of the second order. His philosophy was a Parisian cynicism. His spirit was happy in that world of sense which the greatest writers have either ignored or assumed. Animalism is good, but it is not the best. There are writers who might have taken a story of de Maupassant’s and, using it for a mere concrete foundation, might have built upon it the more delicate fabric of the essential story—the intimate spiritual drama which he had either missed or, in the ruthlessness of his animalism, disdained.
The main secret of de Maupassant’s mere vogue is that he dazzles. As a cyclist at night, he rides down the highway with Dexterity flashing ahead of him like an acetylene lamp. In that illumination you can perceive no defects: you can only wonder. De Maupassant will not survive translation. Although translation may retain every ingenuity of construction, the last finish, the ultimate polish, is lost in it. The magic dazzle fades. You wake as if from enchantment. Boule de Suif in English (good...
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The French Decadence
All that is revolting in [Zola’s ‘physiological school’]—its suffocating atmosphere and cold analysis, —might be illustrated from ‘Boule de Suif.’ But there was something more in it than Zolaesque brutality, or the tedious yet impressive collocation of details with which Flaubert’s name is inseparably associated. There was humour, pathos, strong character-drawing, and the most deceptive air, not merely of Realism but of real life. . . . ‘Boule de Suif,’ who gives her name, or rather her nickname, to the story, —how can we praise her sufficiently? Describe her, indeed, we cannot, except by a circumlocution, yet in her degraded but still womanly nature, the oddest notions lurk of the base and the honourable, making her, —poor bedraggled creature, —a sort of heroine, in the ‘General Overturn.’ It is the absurdest, yet most touching situation.
And it is in the spirit of Flaubert. If there is in it a throbbing vein of compassion, there is also unconquerable cynicism. . . . Never, from the day he began to write until the pen dropped from his convulsed fingers, did Maupassant grow weary of enlarging on ‘the infamy of the human heart.’ With the insolent gaiety of youth he paints it in the faces, actions, gestures, . . . of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen. . . . This we may call satire, if we will, but it has risen to a great height, and is in a key untouched, we are sure, by Juvenal.
But the root of bitterness remains. Our...
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