Maupassant’s contributions to literature have often been overshadowed by the facts of his life. His sexual promiscuity, profligate Parisian lifestyle, and tragic death from syphilis (which was later frequently cited as an example of the dangers of sex) have often received more attention than his work.
Maupassant began his literary career with the publication of “Boule de Suif,” a touching story of a prostitute who reluctantly beds a Prussian officer in order to secure release of her traveling companions, who then scorn her. His first full volume of short fiction appeared in 1881 under the title of his second important story, “La Maison Tellier”—a comic piece about a group of prostitutes who attend a Holy Communion. After this book’s success, Maupassant published numerous stories in newspapers and periodicals that were reprinted in books that appeared at a rate of about two volumes a year. Many of his stories created considerable of controversy among the French critics of the time because he dared to focus on the experiences of so-called lowlife characters.
Maupassant’s first brush with censorship law occurred in 1879 with the publication of his poem “La Mur,” which was attacked as an “outrage on public morality.” Maupassant asked his most important mentor, Gustave Flaubert, to write what became a famous letter defending another of his poems, “Au bord de l’eau,” that had been accused of being obscene. The case...
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