Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The events of this story unfold in four easily distinguishable scenes. The first scene describes the location and decor of the establishment and introduces the principal characters. The brothel, a small old house, is located in the town of Fecamp; it is situated behind a church, and from its windows the old chapel dedicated to the Virgin is readily visible. The interior consists of two levels, each with its own separate entrance. The downstairs contains a café of sorts in one corner, with old marble tables on which drinks are placed; it is restricted to those frequenters of lower rank who are quite boisterous and crude. The upper level, or salon of Jupiter, is all blue and boasts a large drawing of Leda stretched out under the swan. Above the entrance, a small lamp burns all night, similar to those that keep vigil over the sanctuary in a church. This level is reserved for the gentlemen who are engaged in trading, government work, or other forms of “respectable” employment. Madame Tellier is the patroness of this brothel. She is cheerful, well liked, and virtuous, in spite of her profession. Of her permanent staff, Fernande, Raphaelle, and Rosa the Jade work on the upper level; Louise and Flora work on the ground floor. Each is supposed to represent the incarnation of a particular feminine type, so that every customer may realize the vision of his ideal. This scene concludes as some of the regular patrons find the house closed because Madame Tellier and her employees are journeying to the country town...
(The entire section is 616 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“Madame Tellier’s Establishment” (sometimes translated as “Madame Tellier’s House”) is often called Maupassant’s masterpiece, although it is not as generally well known as his ironic-ending story “La Parure” (“The Necklace”) or his psychological thriller “Le Horla (“The Horla”). Written while he was still under the influence of his mentor Gustave Flaubert, the story is unlike his later works in that it depends more on realistic detail and detached comic tone than on anecdote and narrative irony. The story begins with a brief portrait of Madame Tellier, who, although she keeps a house of prostitution, is herself quite virtuous. The girls in the house are described as the epitome of each feminine type so that each customer might find the realization of his ideal: the country girl blond, the mysterious Jewess, the plump “ball of fat,” and two others representing the classic French and the classic Spanish woman.
The central event of the story is a simple one. The Madame is invited to the First Communion of her little niece, and since she cannot leave her frequently quarreling girls alone, she closes the brothel and takes them all to the country with her. The arrival of the prostitutes in the small town is a classic comic scene as they march down the street in their flashy elegance while the townspeople peek out their windows in amazement. It is the scene in the church during the communion, however, that constitutes the center...
(The entire section is 475 words.)