A quote from the story that expresses the theme comes, appropriately, near the very end. The heroine tells the famous man with whom she spent the night:
"I wanted to know . . . what . . . what vice . . . really was . . . and . . . well . . . well, it is not at all funny."
She had long dreamt about the exciting, liberated life she imagined being led by the sophisticated men and women in Paris. Like Mathilde Loisel in Maupassant's "The Necklace," the anonymous heroine of "An Adventure in Paris" is dissatisfied with her humdrum existence as a housewife. She finally goes to Paris with the intention of finding a romantic adventure. She accidentally encounters a famous author whose works have thrilled her. He turns out to be
...a little, bald-headed, gray-bearded man.
He is also ugly, but the heroine doesn't see the reality because he is none other than the famous Monsieur Varin. She manages to force an acquaintanceship upon him. She seems to be emboldened by the fact that she is finally actually living her dream in Paris where any kind of an adventure can happen, any dream can come true. They spend the day together and then go to bed in his rooms. The affair was a disappointment. He went to sleep and
...she looked, nearly heartbroken, at the little fat man lying on his back, whose round stomach raised up the bed-clothes like a balloon filled with gas. He snored with the noise of a wheezy organ pipe, with prolonged snorts and comic chokings....and a small stream of saliva was running out of one corner of his half-open mouth.
She is glad when daylight finally appears through the drawn blinds. She is thoroughly disillusioned about the city and about the life she imagined there. The main memory she takes home with her is of the men sweeping what must have been mainly horse manure off the streets.
Maupassant was a realist and a cynic. He was quite familiar with the supposedly fascinating and exciting luxuries and vices of Parisians. He is writing from experience when he describes the rather sordid realities of nineteenth-century Paris. The artists, painters, and musicians gave the place an aura of glamor which did not exist in reality. Maupassant died of syphilis at the age of forty-two.
And it seemed to her as if something had been swept out of her; as if her over-excited dreams had been pushed into the gutter, or into the drain...
An ancient Roman saying pertinent to Maupassant's story is:
Quae e longinquo magis placent
This translates as "Things from afar please the more." Or "Distance lends enchantment."
The girl in Ernest Hemingway's story "Hills Like White Elephants" is expressing the same disillusionment when she says "Everything tastes like licorice." It is sad but true that reality never measures up to our expectations or our dreams.