The first of Guy de Maupassant’s six novels, A Woman’s Life was published in 1883, three years after the death of his teacher, Gustave Flaubert. Maupassant tried and mostly failed to please Flaubert by aspiring to the highest distinction as an artist in poetry and in the theater. With the publication of “Madame Tellier’s Excursion” in 1881, he found a ready market for short stories that were admirably crafted but—judged by Flaubert’s exacting standards—needlessly cynical, inelegant, and often mechanically contrived. Nevertheless, their pungency, realism, and shrewd observation of character attracted many readers who had ignored Des Vers (1880; Romance in Rhyme, 1903), Maupassant’s only volume of poetry. Many of the qualities of the stories also appear in A Woman’s Life, a sustained, psychologically honest study of Jeanne de Lamare from the time she completes her idealistic education at a Rouen convent in 1819 until about 1855, when she is middle-aged, disillusioned, and worn with many sorrows.
Maupassant’s novel has frequently been compared, usually to its disadvantage, with two other novels that examine the fate of disappointed women, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857) and Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale (1908). For subtlety, richness of characterization, and harmonious prose style, Madame Bovary is assuredly a more profound work of art. Bennett’s novel, which...
(The entire section is 936 words.)
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