Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As a writer, France is perhaps best known for his witty portrayal of life’s ironies and for the purity and clarity of his classical style. “Putois” offers an excellent illustration of both qualities. For example, the grotesque and self-contradictory description of Putois, recited so solemnly at the beginning of the story, is rendered even more comical by Bergeret’s comment to his daughter that the text should be treated piously as sacred family liturgy, to be passed on from generation to generation. This “devout” sentiment, from an acknowledged skeptic in matters of religion, sounds an ironic counterpoint that brings a knowing smile to the lips of the alert reader.

As a master ironist, France can surprise his reader into frank laughter as well as inspire the silent knowing smile. Speaking of Madame Cornouiller’s cook, whose unexpected pregnancy was attributed to Putois, the author remarks that the cook was thought by everyone to be safe from the dangers of love because of her luxuriant beard. A deft ironic touch, encapsulating the sense of the whole story, is put into the mouth of Eloi Bergeret, who notes that he would not be a good citizen if he informed the people of Saint-Omer that Putois does not exist because one must think twice before depriving a community of an important article of faith. Such wry observations, expressed in elegant, well-turned sentences, illustrate why France is so successful in this small comic masterpiece in communicating both theme and meaning so clearly and concisely.