Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Normandy. Largely agricultural region on western France’s Atlantic coast in which the novel’s fundamental settings—both literal and symbolic—are established in the opening chapter. In that chapter’s very first image, seventeen-year-old Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds looks out over rainy Rouen, a major city in Normandy. She has just left a convent after spending five years within its walls absorbing a proper education. She awaits her father, who will take her home to the country again.
Walls are one key motif that appears early in the novel—the walls of the convent, the confines of the city. Indeed, Jeanne looks forward to returning to the family estate, Les Peuples, where she and her parents will spend the summer. The convent is thus constraint, while the beautiful countryside is the essence of freedom: sun, open pastures, trees and flowers, the seaside. The landscape seems to Jeanne to represent a bright, wide-open future.
Les Peuples (lay PUHP-luh). Perthuis family estate. Jeanne longs for—dreams of—freedom. Indeed, “dreams” may be the novel’s key word. But ultimately, one might argue that Jeanne’s dreams are her weakness. She expects life to conform to her fantasies of perfection—her dreams of a great passion, a handsome lover, the perfect marriage and family. She marries a local nobleman of low degree, Julien de Lamare. According to plan, Jeanne’s parents give the newlyweds Les Peuples as their home.
Instead of fulfilling Jeanne’s dream of freedom, her beloved...
(The entire section is 649 words.)
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Donaldson-Evans, Mary. A Woman’s Revenge: The Chronology of Dispossession in Maupassant’s Fiction. Lexington: French Forum, 1986. A structural analysis of the chronological development in the way Maupassant depicts the relations between men and women.
Harris, Trevor A. Le V. Maupassant in the Hall of Mirrors. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Posits that Maupassant’s use of irony is an attempt to separate himself from and to criticize the excesses of French society. Examines Maupassant’s narratives and journalism and focuses on his narrative technique, syntax, characterization, structure, and imagery.
Lerner, Michael G. Maupassant. New York: George Braziller, 1975. Reviews Maupassant’s early life, his tutelage under Gustave Flaubert, the influence of Émile Zola, and the use of naturalistic techniques in Maupassant’s work. Includes photographs.
Sullivan, Edward D. Maupassant the Novelist. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1954. Reviews aesthetics and theme in Maupassant’s novels. Addresses the function of a critic, the opposition between realism and idealism, style, and Maupassant’s objective point of view. The author traces a subtle but growing element of the psychological in Maupassant’s last three novels. Presents A Woman’s Life as a collection of short stories about a central, passive character.
Wallace, A. H. Guy de Maupassant. New York: Twayne, 1973. Depicts Maupassant’s fiction as reflections of the life of a “doer” rather than an observer. Offers analysis of specific themes in the author’s work, including infidelity, female servitude in marriage, and naturalism.