Guy de Maupassant Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 19th Century)

0111201564-Maupassant.jpgGuy de Maupassant (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Maupassant was one of the major literary figures at the end of the nineteenth century to help move short fiction away from the primitive folktale form to the short story of psychological realism. His most significant contributions to the form may be found in such affecting realistic stories as “Boule de Suif” and such powerful tales of psychological obsession as “The Horla.”

Early Life

Henri-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850. He was the first son of Laure Le Poittevin and Gustave de Maupassant, both from prosperous bourgeois families. When Maupassant was eleven and his brother Hervé was five, his mother, an independent-minded woman, risked social disgrace to obtain a legal separation from her husband. With the father’s absence, Maupassant’s mother became the most influential figure in the young boy’s life.

At age thirteen, he was sent to a small seminary near Rouen for classical studies, but he found the place unbearably dreary and yearned for home, finally getting himself expelled in his next-to-last year. He returned home to the influence of his mother, as well as her brilliant brother Alfred and his student and friend Gustave Flaubert. At age eighteen, Maupassant was enrolled at the Lycée de Rouen, and he began law studies soon afterward in Paris, only to have these studies interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War, for which he enlisted. After the war, he gained a position in the Naval Ministry, but under the tutelage of Flaubert he began to publish poetry and stories in various small journals. He also became part of a group of literary figures, including Alphonse Daudet, Émile Zola, and Ivan Turgenev, who met regularly at the home of Flaubert.

Life’s Work

Maupassant’s first published story, “La Main d’écorché” (1875; “The Skinned Hand,” 1909), which was reworked in 1883 as simply “La Main” or “The Hand,” belongs to a tradition of supernatural short fiction that is as old as legend itself; in reworking the story, however, Maupassant grounded it in the revenge-tale tradition popularized by his countryman Prosper Mérimée and at the same time managed to make the story an ironic comment on supernatural fictions.

With the publication of “Boule de Suif” (1880; English translation, 1903), a tale which Flaubert praised extravagantly, Maupassant ceased working for the government and devoted himself to a career as a writer, excelling especially in the genre of the conte, or short story, which was quite popular at the time in periodical magazines and newspapers. Before achieving this initial success, however, Maupassant contracted syphilis, which was to take his life after a relatively brief writing career of ten years.

After the success of “Boule de Suif,” the touching story of the prostitute who reluctantly goes to bed with a Prussian officer in order to procure the release of her traveling companions, only to be scorned by them, Maupassant began to write anecdotal articles for two newspapers, the practice of which served as preparation for writing the short stories that were to make him famous.

His first full volume of short fiction appeared in 1881 under the title of his second important story, “La Maison Tellier” (1881; “Madame Tellier’s Establishment,” 1903), a comic piece about a group of prostitutes who attend a First Communion. After the success of this book, Maupassant published numerous stories in newspapers and periodicals. These stories were reprinted in volumes containing other Maupassant stories. Many of his stories created much controversy among the French critics of the time because he dared to focus on the experiences of so-called lowlife characters.

In addition to the realistic stories of the lower classes, Maupassant experimented with mystery tales, many of which are reminiscent of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Instead of depending on the supernatural, these stories focus on some mysterious dimension of reality which is justified rationally by the central character. As a result, the reader is never quite sure whether this realm exists in actuality or whether it is a product of the narrator’s obsessions.

After having published as many as sixty of Maupassant’s stories, the newspaper Gil-Blas began the serialization of his first novel, Une Vie (A Woman’s Life, 1888), in February, 1883, which was published in book form two months later. The year 1884 also saw the publication of Maupassant’s most famous short story and his most widely read novel. The story, “La Parure” (1884; “The Necklace,” 1903), has become one of the most famous short stories in any language. Indeed, it has become so famous that it is the story which most commonly comes to mind when Maupassant’s name is mentioned, despite the fact that most critics agree that Maupassant’s creation of tone and character in such stories as “Boule de Suif” and “La Maison Tellier” is much more representative of his genius than this ironically plotted story about a woman who wasted her entire life working to pay back a lost necklace, only to discover that it was fake.

“Le Horla” (1887; “The Horla,” 1890), a story almost as famous as “The Necklace,” is often referred to as the first sign of the syphilis-caused madness that eventually led to Maupassant’s death. As a story of psychological horror, however, it is actually the pinnacle of several stories of madness with which Maupassant had previously experimented. The story focuses on the central character’s intuition of a reality which surrounds human life but remains imperceptible to the senses. Told by means of diary entries, the story charts the protagonist’s growing awareness of his own madness as well as his lucid understanding of the process whereby the external world is displaced by psychic projections.

What makes “The Horla” distinctive is the increasing need of the narrator to account for his madness as the result of something external to himself. Such a desire is Maupassant’s way of universalizing the story, for he well knew that human beings have always tried to embody their most basic desires and fears in some external but invisible presence. “The Horla” is a masterpiece of hallucinatory horror because it focuses so powerfully on that process of mistaking inner reality for outer reality—a process which is the very basis of hallucination. The story is too strongly controlled to be the work of a madman.

Moreover, those who argue that with the writing of “The Horla” Maupassant was already going mad cannot explain the fact that the following year he published the short novel Pierre et Jean (1888; Pierre and Jean, 1890), which is one of his best-conceived and best-executed works. This work was his last major contribution, however, for after its publication his intensive production of stories slowed almost to a halt, and he began to complain of migraine headaches, which made it impossible for him to write. His eyesight began to fail, his memory faded, and he began to suffer from delusions.

Just after the first of the year in 1892, Maupassant had to be taken to a sanatorium in a straitjacket after having slashed his own throat in a fit of what he himself called “an absolute case of madness.” In the sanatorium, he disintegrated rapidly until he died on July 6, 1893.

Summary

Guy de Maupassant is one of those writers whose contribution to literature is often overshadowed by the tragic facts of his life and whose unique experimentation is often ignored in favor of his more popular innovations. Too often it is his promiscuity and profligate Parisian lifestyle that receive the most attention from the casual reader. As if to provide evidence for the payment Maupassant had to make for such a lifestyle, these readers then point to the supposed madness-inspired story “The Horla” as a fit ending for one who not only wrote about prostitutes but also paid for their dangerous favors with his life. Yet Maupassant’s real place as a writer belongs with such innovators of the short-story form as Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Ambrose Bierce, and O. Henry. Too often, whereas such writers as Turgenev and Chekhov are admired for their so-called lyricism and realistic vignettes, such writers as Bierce and O. Henry are scorned for their so-called cheap narrative tricks. Maupassant falls somewhere in between. On the one hand, he mastered the ability to create the tight, ironic story that depends, as all short stories do, on the impact of the ending. On the other hand, he had the ability, like Chekhov, to focus keenly on a limited number of characters in a luminous situation. The Soviet short-story writer Isaac Babel has perhaps paid the ultimate tribute to Maupassant in one of his stories by noting that Maupassant knew the power of a period placed in just the right place.

Maupassant had as much to do with the development of the short-story genre in the late nineteenth century as did Chekhov, although in somewhat different ways. Yet, because such stories as “The Necklace” seem so deceptively simple and trivial, his experiment with the form has often been ignored.

Bibliography

Ignotus, Paul. The Paradox of Maupassant. London: University of London Press, 1966. A biographical and critical study that focuses much more on the unsavory aspects of Maupassant’s life than it does on the excellence of his fiction. Ignotus insists, with little evidence to support his arguments, that Maupassant was primarily driven by his sexual appetites, perversions, and immoralities.

Lerner, Michael G. Maupassant. New York: George Braziller, 1975. Primarily a biographical study, although discussion of the publication of Maupassant’s work is often accompanied by some brief discussion of how his novels and stories are influenced by and in turn reflect his own social milieu.

Steegmuller, Francis. A Lion in the Path. New York: Random House, 1949. Not only the best biographical study of Maupassant but also one of the most perceptive critical estimates of Maupassant’s works; it is the one indispensable book on Maupassant by an excellent biographer and critic who clearly understands the important role that Maupassant plays in the history of French literature.

Sullivan, Edward D. Maupassant: The Short Stories. Great Neck, N.Y.: Barron’s, 1962. Although little more than a pamphlet-length introduction to some of Maupassant’s basic themes and story types, this valuable study can serve to orient the reader to Maupassant’s contribution to the short-story form. Particularly helpful is Sullivan’s attempt to place Maupassant’s short stories within their proper generic tradition.

Sullivan, Edward D. Maupassant the Novelist. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954. A study of the basic themes and technique of Maupassant’s novels, as well as an attempt to synthesize his aesthetic and critical ideas from his essays and newspaper articles. Sullivan admits that Maupassant was a “natural” short-story writer but argues that a study of his novels provides an opportunity to study Maupassant’s creative process.

Wallace, A. H. Guy de Maupassant. New York: Twayne, 1973. A conventional biographical and critical study that adds little to Steegmuller’s earlier work. Wallace focuses on Maupassant’s use of fictional themes and obsessions taken from his own life, primarily the cuckoldry of his father, the women in his life, and his madness.

Guy de Maupassant Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Maupassant’s contributions to literature have often been overshadowed by the facts of his life. His sexual promiscuity, profligate Parisian lifestyle, and tragic death from syphilis (which was later frequently cited as an example of the dangers of sex) have often received more attention than his work.

Maupassant began his literary career with the publication of “Boule de Suif,” a touching story of a prostitute who reluctantly beds a Prussian officer in order to secure release of her traveling companions, who then scorn her. His first full volume of short fiction appeared in 1881 under the title of his second important story, “La Maison Tellier”—a comic piece about a group of prostitutes who attend a Holy Communion. After this book’s success, Maupassant published numerous stories in newspapers and periodicals that were reprinted in books that appeared at a rate of about two volumes a year. Many of his stories created considerable of controversy among the French critics of the time because he dared to focus on the experiences of so-called lowlife characters.

Maupassant’s first brush with censorship law occurred in 1879 with the publication of his poem “La Mur,” which was attacked as an “outrage on public morality.” Maupassant asked his most important mentor, Gustave Flaubert, to write what became a famous letter defending another of his poems, “Au bord de l’eau,” that had been accused of being obscene. The case was dropped, but not before Maupassant exploited the publicity to promote his career.

Maupassant’s first novel, Une Vie (1883), about the frustrations of a young wife in Normandy, faced private censorship when Hachette, a publishing and book-selling company that supplied books for the stalls in French railway stations, refused to stock it. Maupassant wrote a petition to the authorities that was published and widely discussed. The case created abundant publicity, which only succeeded in bolstering the book’s sales and furthering Maupassant’s career.

Une Vie and Maupassant’s second novel Bel Ami (1885), which focused on Parisian life, were involved in an even more famous censorship case in England in 1888. It centered on the respectable publisher Henry Vizetelly, who was charged with obscene libel for publishing works by Maupassant, Émile Zola, and Paul Bourget. Zolaism, or naturalism, a school with which Maupassant was identified, was called a “study of the putrid” by the courts, and Vizetelly was sentenced to three months in prison.

Many decades later Maupassant’s story “La Maison Tellier” appeared in an issue of Eros magazine that the U.S. government prosecuted in 1966. Maupassant was thus indirectly involved in publisher Ralph Ginzburg’s obscenity case in 1966.

Guy de Maupassant Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Henri-René-Albert Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850, in the Château de Miromesnil in the French province of Normandy. He was the first child of Gustave and Laure de Maupassant. Guy de Maupassant spent his childhood and adolescence in Normandy. His parents grew to dislike each other intensely, and they eventually separated. Laure did not want Gustave to play any role in rearing either Guy or their second son, Hervé. She was an overly protective mother, and she did not allow Guy to attend school until he was thirteen years old. Until he became a student in 1863 at a Catholic seminary school, Guy’s only teacher was the local parish priest. Guy became indifferent to religion, and at the age of seventeen he was expelled from the seminary school because of behavior judged to be unacceptable by his teachers. He completed his secondary studies in 1869 at a boarding school in Rouen.

In 1867, Maupassant met the celebrated novelist Flaubert, whom Laure had known for almost twenty years. Some fanciful critics have suggested that Flaubert was not only Maupassant’s literary mentor but also his biological father. Although there is no evidence to support this hypothesis, Maupassant did react with extreme displeasure and perhaps with excessive sensitivity to the frequently repeated remark that Flaubert had been his father.

Maupassant began his law studies at the University of Paris in 1869, but with the outbreak of hostilities in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, he enlisted in the French army. He served in Normandy, where he experienced firsthand the humiliation of the French defeat and the severity of the Prussian occupation. After his return to civilian life, he became a clerk in the Naval Ministry. He remained in government service until 1880, when he resigned his position in the Ministry of Public Instruction so that he could dedicate all of his efforts to writing.

Starting in 1875, Flaubert became Maupassant’s literary mentor. At first, Maupassant slavishly imitated his master’s style, but gradually he began to explore themes and situations such as the tragic effect of war and occupation on French society, which Flaubert had chosen not to treat. Maupassant received further intellectual stimulation by frequenting Flaubert’s weekly literary salon, which was attended at various times by such eminent writers as Turgenev, Zola, Alphonse Daudet, and Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. In late 1879, Maupassant and five other French authors agreed that each would write a short story on the Prussian occupation of France for a volume to be entitled Les Soirées de Médan (1880; the evenings in Médan). Maupassant’s contribution was “Boule de Suif.” The other contributors to this volume were Zola, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Paul Alexis, Henry Céard, and Léon Hennique. Almost all critics agreed with Flaubert’s assessment that “Boule de Suif” was “a masterpiece of composition and wit.” This extremely favorable reaction encouraged Maupassant to become a very prolific writer of short stories and novels. During the 1880’s, he earned a good living as a writer, but gradually his health began to deteriorate as a result of syphilis, which he had contracted in the 1870’s and which his doctors had failed to diagnose until it was too late for him to be cured. On January 2, 1892, Maupassant tried to kill himself. After this unsuccessful suicide attempt, he was committed to a psychiatric asylum at Passy, in Paris, France, where he died on July 6, 1893.

Guy de Maupassant Biography (Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Henri-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850, the eldest son of Laure Le Poittevin and Gustave de Maupassant, both from prosperous bourgeois French families. When Maupassant was eleven, his strong-willed mother obtained a legal separation from her husband. In the absence of her husband, Maupassant’s mother assumed an exaggerated importance in his life. The most important masculine figures for Maupassant during his youth were Alfred, his mother’s brilliant brother, and Alfred’s literary student, Gustave Flaubert . With the death of Alfred at a relatively young age, Flaubert began to have an even more significant role, encouraging the young Maupassant to write.

Maupassant’s education was aimed at training him for a career in the law, and after a brief period of military service during the Franco-Prussian War he was given a position in the Naval Ministry. However, under the tutelage of Flaubert he began to publish poetry and stories in various obscure journals. He also became part of a group of literary figures—which included Alphonse Daudet,Émile Zola, and Ivan Turgenev—that met regularly at Flaubert’s home. In 1880, with the publication of “Boule de suif,” a tale that Flaubert praised extravagantly, Maupassant ceased working for the government and devoted himself completely to his writing. In the next ten years, he wrote numerous articles for newspapers, published more than three hundred short stories, and wrote six novels.

Many critics believe that Maupassant’s best-known mystery story, “Le Horla” (“The Horla”), a first-person account of psychological hallucination, was the first indication of the madness (caused by syphilis) that eventually led to his death. In the last few years of his life, his eyesight weakened, his memory failed, his thinking became erratic, and he suffered from delusions. After undergoing several unsuccessful treatments for his disease and even attempting suicide, Maupassant was incarcerated in a sanatorium, where he died on July 6, 1893.

Guy de Maupassant Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born on August 5, 1850, in the imposing Château de Miromesnil, near Dieppe, France, Henri-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant (moh-puh-SAHN) was the first son of Laure Le Poittevin and Gustave de Maupassant. Although both parents were from fairly well-to-do families, they were only renting the château where Maupassant was born. According to biographers, he probably was born in a small house nearby but was immediately taken to the château so his birth announcements would look more impressive. When the boy was eleven, his parents were legally separated, and he spent most of his youth with his mother, who became a powerful influence on his life.

As a member of the upper middle class, Maupassant was enrolled at a school suitable for him, a small seminary near Rouen. The place, however, was not to the boy’s liking, and he purposely got himself expelled before completing school. After returning home to his mother, he fell under the tutelage of his uncle Alfred and a friend of the family who was later to become his most famous and important influence, the writer Gustave Flaubert.

When he was eighteen, Maupassant tried to complete his education by enrolling at Lycée de Rouen, but his law studies were disrupted soon after by his enlistment in the Franco-Prussian War. As a result of his military experience, he was able to get a position after the war as a clerk in the Naval Ministry in Paris, where his primary job was the supervision of printing supplies. Yet his real ambition was to be a writer, and under the guidance of Flaubert he began publishing his poetry and stories in a number of small journals. His work was also encouraged by his membership in an informal group of writers who met at Flaubert’s house and includedÉmile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, and Ivan Turgenev. His first story to appear in a published book was in a collection of stories by various writers, including Zola; it is a story that remains one of his best, “Boule de suif,” translated “Roly-Poly” or “Ball of Fat.” Because the story received so much praise from Flaubert, Maupassant was encouraged to quit his government job and spend all of his time writing. He soon realized that his special skill lay in the area of the conte, or short story, a form that was highly popular at the time in newspapers and magazines. Like his American counterpart O. Henry and his Russian counterpart Anton Chekhov, Maupassant learned to master the short-story form by writing anecdotal sketches and articles for newspapers.

Maupassant’s first collection of short stories was published in 1881, taking its title from the longest story in the collection, “La Maison Tellier,” translated as Madame Tellier’s Establishment, and Short Stories (1910). The book was a commercial success and made Maupassant’s name so well known that his work was soon solicited by many additional newspapers and magazines. In the following twelve years, Maupassant published twelve collections of short stories, six novels, and two plays. Of the 250 short stories that he published during his relatively brief career, Maupassant is probably best known for such ironic-ending stories as “La Parure” (“The Necklace”) and “La Ficelle” (“A Piece of String”), although at the time that his stories were published he received the most attention for what was called his unwholesome naturalistic presentation of peasant characters and street people. In addition to his anecdotal, surprise-ending tales and his realistic stories of the lower class, Maupassant also mastered the mystery tale, a form that he helped to bring out of the nineteenth century and into the modern era by making what was previously presented as supernatural events the result of hallucinatory experiences of obsessed narrators.

The years 1883 and 1884 were high-water marks in Maupassant’s career, for during this period he published his first novel, Une Vie (1883; A Woman’s Life, 1888), and his most famous short story, “The Necklace”—a story so well known that it has become synonymous for many readers with the short-story form as a genre. By this time, however, Maupassant had already contracted syphilis, which was to take his life. In an era before the discovery of penicillin, there was little that the medical profession could do for him except to watch helplessly as he showed increasing signs of mental disintegration.

After 1890, Maupassant was unable to continue his writing, for his eyesight began to fail, he suffered from severe migraine headaches, his memory faded, and he suffered from delusions. He tried futilely to recuperate through a sea voyage and a stay on the Riviera, but in 1892 he attempted to kill himself and had to be taken to a sanatorium in a straitjacket. On July 6, 1893, a month short of his forty-third birthday, Maupassant died in Passy, Paris, France.

Guy de Maupassant Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Guy de Maupassant had as much to do with the development of the short-story genre in the late nineteenth century as Anton Chekhov did, albeit in somewhat different ways. Yet because such stories as “The Necklace” are so deceptively simple and seem trivial, Maupassant’s experiment with the form has often been ignored. Not until the short story itself receives the recognition that it deserves as a respectable literary genre will Maupassant receive the recognition that he deserves for his contribution to the perfection of the form.

Guy de Maupassant Biography (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although unnamed, the protagonist is approximately identical with the author, as the latter was in the winter of 1916-1917: a young Jewish writer from Odessa who has moved to the capital illegally, on the eve of the February Revolution.

The young writer, though poverty-stricken and selling almost nothing he has written, is so supremely confident that he spurns an offer of a job as a clerk. He sees himself as superior to Leo Tolstoy, whose religion was “all fear. He was frightened by the cold, by old age, by death.”

The narrator finds acceptable employment when Bendersky’s publishing house decides to bring out a new edition of Guy de Maupassant’s works; Bendersky’s wife, Raisa, has begun some translations, but they are flat and lifeless. The narrator is summoned to assist Raisa; he meets her at the Bendersky mansion on Nevsky Prospect—a habitation decorated in profoundly poor taste. The Benderskys are converted Jews, in consequence of which they have been allowed to grow rich.

The narrator would despise Raisa as he does her husband—“a yellow-faced Jew with a bald skull”—were it not for the fact that he finds her ravishing on first sight (although, it must be admitted, the young man finds all women ravishing, including his forty-year-old washerwoman, Katya). The fact that Raisa is enfolded in pink layers of fat is all to the good—precisely Isaac Babel’s type, as readers may know from his other stories.

The narrator meets Raisa daily to go over her translations and to instruct her in literary style. Although Raisa has almost no feeling for style, her redeeming feature is that she recognizes that fact. Additionally to her credit, she declares that Maupassant is the only passion of her life.

Gradually it becomes apparent that the basic plot fine of Babel’s story centers on the attempted seduction of Raisa by her new young assistant, who is probably only half her age. As the two become acquainted, the narrator tells stories of his childhood that, to his “amazement turned out to be “very sordid.” He frightens Raisa and moves her to pity.

Babel’s continuing discussion of Maupassant throughout the story contributes to an ongoing instruction in art and literary style that is central to the work. Maupassant also becomes an element in the plot, however, in that his story “L’Aveau” (“The Confession”), which Raisa and the narrator work on together for a very long time, is retold in some detail. The reader learns that Monsieur Polyte the coachman, who drives red-haired Celeste to market twice a week, continually attempts to seduce Celeste through innuendo and coarse suggestion. Finally, after two years, he succeeds: “What about having some fun today, Mamselle Celeste?” She replies, “I am at your disposal, Monsieur Polyte.” It is interesting that Babel describes Celeste, with her “mighty calves in red stockings,” almost as he does Raisa, with her “strong soft calves . . . planted wide apart on the carpet.” He mentions also that the cart in which Polyte and Celeste make love is pulled by a white mare that keeps on moving forward at a walking pace.

At this point in the narrative, the young writer is full of wine and is alone with Raisa in her big house. He clumsily kisses her, and she recoils. She pushes him into a faraway chair, but he suddenly lunges for her, knocking all twenty-nine volumes of Maupassant off a shelf.

The reader is not told explicitly what happens next. After the books fall to the floor, however, the narrator remarks “and the white mare of my fate went on at a walking pace”—an obvious reference to “The Confession.” The reader also learns that the young man has spent enough additional time at the Bendersky house to become sober. He leaves for home near midnight, wonderfully happy, swaying from side to side (though sober) and singing in a language that he has “just invented.” It is impossible not to conclude from this joyful epiphany (added to the earlier evidence) that the seduction has occurred.

The story requires this seduction so that the conclusion, presented as contrast, may be better appreciated. The young man spends the rest of the night reading a biography of Maupassant; he learns that the great writer died insane, from syphilis, at age forty-two, crawling on his hands and knees and “devouring his own excrement.” The young writer looks out the window at the morning fog, perceiving that the world is hidden from him and realizing that there is much more for him to learn in life.

Guy de Maupassant Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Henri-René-Albert Guy de Maupassant (moh-pah-sah), born on August 5, 1850, at Château de Miromesnil, was descended from an old French family; his grandfather was a wealthy landowner in Lorraine, and the writer’s father was a stockbroker in Paris. As a boy, Maupassant went to school at Yvetot, in Normandy, and later attended the lycée at Rouen. During his childhood and youth in Normandy he observed and absorbed a great deal of the life he was later to use so effectively in his fiction.

Significant in the author’s life was the separation of his parents when he was eleven years old. His mother, a sister of a close friend of Gustave Flaubert, turned to Flaubert for advice after her husband had left her. That association brought Maupassant into French literary circles. Although he was often a member of gatherings that included such famous writers of the nineteenth century as Flaubert, Ivan Turgenev, Émile Zola, and Alphonse Daudet, he seems to have had little interest at the time in a writing career for himself; as an adolescent he was much more interested in sports, especially rowing.

Maupassant’s education was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War, in which he served as a member of the French army. After the war he entered the French civil service, first with the Ministry of the Navy and later with the Ministry of Public Instruction. During the years between 1873 and 1880 he also served a literary apprenticeship under the tutelage of Flaubert. A volume of poetry, Romance in Rhyme, attracted little attention, except to involve its young author in a lawsuit.

Maupassant, realizing his weakness as a poet, concentrated on developing his powers as a writer of prose fiction. Within a short time “Boule de suif,” a short story or conte, appeared in Les Soirées de Médan (1880), a collection of tales which included work by such recognized authors as Zola and Joris-Karl Huysmans. Maupassant’s story about the Franco-Prussian War outshone all the others, and the author’s reputation was made. The lessons he had learned from Flaubert—precision, conciseness, characteristic and accurate detail—had proved their value, and the work is considered Maupassant’s masterpiece in the genre. Following up his success with vigor, Maupassant published more than thirty volumes of short stories, plays, novels, and travel sketches within the ensuing decade. The first collection of short stories published under his own name was Madame Tellier’s Establishment, and Short Stories, which appeared in 1881.

Mademoiselle Fifi, and Other Stories, a particularly fine collection of short stories, added weight to Maupassant’s growing reputation and popularity in 1882. Like most of his volumes of stories, it contained a relatively long title story and a group of shorter pieces. A Woman’s Life was Maupassant’s first novel. As an example of naturalism in literature, it is a masterpiece. In it is portrayed the life of a Norman woman of the nineteenth century, and disillusionment and heartbreak are presented with the naturalistic writer’s objectivity and frankness. Censorship of this book only increased its popularity, thus contributing to Maupassant’s financial success with the novel and another collection of stories, Contes de la bécasse, published in the same year, as was Clair de lune. The material success he enjoyed as a writer enabled Maupassant to leave the French civil service.

In 1884 and 1885 Maupassant produced a great deal of fiction of very high caliber. To those years belong the short-story collections Miss Harriet, and Other Stories; The Sisters Rondoli, and Other Stories; Toine, and Other Stories; Yvette, and Other Stories; and Day and Night Stories. The best of these deal with the author’s favorite and familiar subjects: the Franco-Prussian War, the peasants of Normandy, and petty bureaucrats of the French civil service. Because of the craftsmanship Maupassant displayed, he became a model for writers in England, France, and the United States. Some authorities have seen in his work the origin of the well-made but stereotyped story common to magazines, a type more notable for its facile style than anything else.

More thoughtfully presented was Bel-Ami, a novel about a vicious rascal whose ugliness of spirit was hidden by his handsome face. A statement of Maupassant’s theory of fiction appeared in his preface to Pierre and Jean, in which he declared himself a complete literary naturalist, approaching his material with objectivity and detachment, describing life with utter frankness and reflecting a personal conception of a deterministic universe. In presenting his theories in practice, Maupassant, like other writers of naturalistic fiction, often became biased in the direction of pessimism in his choice of characters and detail, with the result that readers of his work, especially his novels, may find themselves in a depressing fictional world.

In 1886 and 1887 Maupassant began to show signs of mental illness, probably the result of venereal disease. A sea voyage to improve his health enabled him to make some gains toward recovery. From that experience he extracted a travel book, Afloat. His difficulties recurred, however, and after 1890 he practically ceased to write. A general paralysis began to assail him, and he experienced severe hallucinations. Maupassant went to Cannes, on the Mediterranean, to spend the winter of 1891 to 1892, but he was taken back to Paris after an attempt at suicide in January, 1892. He died in Paris on July 6, 1893.

Guy de Maupassant Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Author Henri Rene Albert Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850, in any of several locations in Normandy, France, according to whether...

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Guy de Maupassant Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Guy de Maupassant, a nineteenth-century naturalist author, is one of France’s most distinguished and celebrated writers of short stories....

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Guy de Maupassant Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Guy de Maupassant Published by Gale Cengage

Henri-Rene-Albert Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850, near Tourville-sur-Arques in Normandy France where he spent most of his early life. The oldest child of wealthy parents who eventually separated, Maupassant was not allowed to attend school until he was thirteen years old. Before then, the local parish priest acted as his tutor.

After being expelled from a Catholic seminary school, Maupassant finished his schooling at a Rouen boarding school before studying law at the University of Paris. His studies were soon interrupted by the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, and Maupassant became a soldier in Normandy. After the war, Maupassant did not return to the university and instead entered the civil service, working as a clerk in the Naval and Education Ministries.

Resigning from the Ministry of Education in 1880, Maupassant became a full-time writer. He began by imitating the style of Gustave Flaubert, a prominent French novelist who had been a close friend of Maupassant's mother for decades. Unsubstantiated rumors circulated at the time that Flaubert was Maupassant's true father; both parties always vehemently denied the allegations. Taken under Flaubert's wing, Maupassant became acquainted with some of the most prominent authors of his time, including Emile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, and Alphonse Daudet.

Following the publication of his first story, "Boule de suif'' ("ball of fat'' or "ball of suet''), in an 1880 collection of stories by several authors, Maupassant established himself as a prominent writer of both short stories and novels. During the next decade, he published six novels and nearly three hundred short stories, many of them in the Paris newspapers Gil-Blas and Le Gaulois. He also wrote plays, poetry, travel essays, and newspaper articles. ‘‘The Necklace" ("Laparure" ) appeared in Le Gaulois on February 17, 1884, and was included in Maupassant's 1885 collection Stories of Night and Day (Contes dujour et de la nuit).

During the 1880s, Maupassant's health declined, largely as a result of syphilis, which he had contracted in the 1870s but which physicians had not diagnosed. Following an unsuccessful suicide attempt on January 2,1892, Maupassant was placed in a sanitarium. He died a year and a half later of complications from the disease.