Guy de Maupassant Maupassant, Guy de - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Guy de Maupassant 1850–-1893

(Full name Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant; also wrote under the pseudonyms of Joseph Prunier, Guy de Valmont, and Maufrigneuse) French short story writer, novelist, journalist, poet, dramatist, and travel writer.

The following entry presents criticism of Maupassant's short fiction from 1989 to 2002. See also Guy de Maupassant Literary Criticism.

Maupassant is considered one of the finest short story writers of all time and a champion of the realist approach to writing. His short stories, noted for their diversity and quality, are characterized by the clarity of their prose and the objective irony of their presentation, as well as their keen evocation of the physical world. To the realist's ideal of scrupulous diction, Maupassant added an economy of language and created a narrative style outstanding in its austere power, simplicity, and vivid sensuousness.

Biographical Information

Maupassant was born in Normandy, France, in 1850. His father and mother separated when he was eleven years old, and Maupassant was raised under the influence of his strong, domineering mother. The young Maupassant's cynical view of marriage seems to have stemmed from these early experiences and is evident in much of his work. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, he left his law studies in Paris, which he had begun the prior year, to enlist in the army. His experiences as a soldier inform some of his finest stories. After the war, due to financial problems, the author was forced to accept a position as a clerk in the Naval Office. In 1877 he was diagnosed with syphilis, for which there was no known cure. In 1878 he accepted a position in the Ministry of Public Education. Maupassant devoted a great deal of time to writing during his tenure as a civil servant, writing plays, poetry, and narrative prose. Gustave Flaubert became his friend and mentor, helping him with his writing and introducing him to prestigious literary circles. After Flaubert's death, Maupassant became a regular contributor to Le Gaulois, a respected Paris newspaper, and eventually wrote for the periodicals Gil Blas and Figaro, often under pseudonyms. After he left the ministry, his literary output increased dramatically and he enjoyed much success. The syphilis he had contracted as a young man led to recurrent problems with his eyesight and eventually to a complete physical and emotional collapse. Struggling with bouts of a debilitating mental disorder, Maupassant attempted suicide in 1892 and was subsequently confined to a sanatorium in Passy until his death.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Maupassant's stories are often autobiographical in nature. For example, several of his stories are drawn from his difficult childhood and focus on the dilemma of a rejected woman and the children of an ill-fated liaison, and explore the problems of identity and the individual's place in a rigid social structure. In addition, Maupassant's experiences as a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War inform some of his best stories, such as his masterpiece “Boule de suif,” which expresses the author's disgust for the degradation and folly of war. His boredom and frustration with his career as a government clerk provided the setting for such stories as “L'heritage,” in which he depicted the hopeless, tedious existence of a civil servant. In the company of Flaubert and his circle, which included Ivan Turgenev, Alphonse Daudet, and Émile Zola, Maupassant was truly at the center of European thought, and his work bears its legacy. At first associated with the naturalist movement, Maupassant eventually turned to realism. These principles, forged by Flaubert, called for a scrupulous concern with form and a dedication to precision of detail and exact description. Maupassant also shared with his mentor a severe pessimism toward life, as well as a disdain for bourgeois values, both of which are reflected throughout his short fiction. From 1880 to 1890 he published nearly 300 short stories, a prodigious literary feat, although he made full use of his material by constantly reshaping and reworking existing stories and duplicating scenes, descriptions, and vignettes from his newspaper pieces in his stories.

Critical Reception

Throughout Maupassant's lifetime and into the twentieth century, scholars generally have been united in their favorable assessments of his work. Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, and Anatole France all recognized his talent. The critical reception of stories has focused on several major areas, among them his morality, the nature of his realism, the influence of Flaubert on his work, and the autobiographical aspects of his fiction. Recent commentators have noted Maupassant's influence on other important writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James. Readers have consistently found Maupassant's stories fascinating, and his works have been widely translated. For their variety, concision, clarity of prose style, and realistic approach, Maupassant's short stories have earned him a place among the finest exponents of the genre.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

La Maison Tellier 1881

Mademoiselle Fifi 1882

Contes de la bécasse 1883

Miss Harriet 1884

Contes et nouvelles 1885

Yvette 1885

Monsieur Parent 1886

La petite roque 1886

Toine 1886

Le Horla 1887

L'inutile beauté 1890

The Life Work of Henri René Guy de Maupassant, Embracing Romance, Travel, Comedy and Verse, for the First Time Complete in English (short stories, novels, plays, poetry, travel sketches) 1903

The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant 1955

Une vie [A Woman's Life] (novel) 1883

Bel-Ami [Bel-Ami: A Novel] (novel) 1885

Mont-Oriol [Mont-Oriol: A Novel] (novel) 1887

Pierre et Jean [Pierre et Jean: The Two Brothers] (novel) 1888

Sur l'eau [Afloat] (travel sketches) 1888

Fort comme la mort [Strong as Death: A Novel] (novel) 1889

Notre coeur [The Human Heart] (novel) 1890

Le vie errante [In Vagabondia] (travel sketches) 1890

Musotte (drama) 1891

Chroniques 3 vols. [edited by Hubert Juin] (history) 1980

Armine Kotin Mortimer (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Mortimer, Armine Kotin. “Second Stories.” In Short Story: Theory at a Crossroads, edited by Susan Lohafer and Jo Ellyn Clarey, pp. 276-98. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

[In the following essay, Mortimer analyzes Maupassant's use of second-story construction in several of his stories.]

It is the excess of the suggested meaning—it is the rendering this the upper instead of the undercurrent of the theme—which turns into prose … the so-called poetry of the so-called transcendentalists.

—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”

Poetry is not alone in having an undercurrent of suggested meaning that risks platitudes as soon as it is exposed. I have been collecting examples of short stories that owe their “wow” to the careful embedding of a second story in the first.1 Indeed, the action of these stories on the reader is such that the reader is actively solicited to recognize that undercurrent, encoded in diverse ways, and in so doing to create a second story that is not told outright. The second story may be in addition to the first, occurring after it; it may be prior or simultaneous; it may remain quite hidden or erupt full-blown into the first story (Katherine Mansfield's “Bliss” or Edith Wharton's “Roman Fever”). In the most frustrating examples, it never comes to light, though it leaves clues (Maupassant's “En Voyage” and Barbey d'Aurevilly's “Le Plus Bel Amour de Don Juan”). It constitutes a complete narrative, and it is not secondary. In all cases, the second story is necessary to the intelligibility of the first.

To distinguish this narratological construction from other forms is not always easy. It is not a simple mise en abyme, in which an embedded story reflects on the outside story, because in that construction a second story is not told; for the same reason, it is different from the frame of a narrative that also tells a story. Nor is this a matter of metaphoric treatment of the plot, or allegory, in which the reader may well treat the entire story as symbolic and translate it to another dimension. Detective activity, which does in a sense characterize the reader of second stories, is aimed at uncovering the first story in the case of mystery stories; they do not usually have second stories as well. Many stories with second-story construction also have surprise endings, but not all stories with surprise endings have second stories. And fantastic stories, in which the plot may seem to refer to another story that is made to account for the unexplainable phenomena, differ in that the other story never happened. Finally, unlike an open-ended structure, or a threshold closure, the second-story construction does not leave the outcome up in the air; quite to the contrary, the action of the second story often brings closure to the first. This construction is particular to short stories, although it can also enter as an element into parts of longer narratives. Translated to the scale of a novel, however, this narratological device would lose some of its definition.

Ernest Hemingway had a utopian view of the writer as one who must know everything, the better to omit things: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.” He meant, of course, knowledge about things like marlins and bullfights (“A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing”), and he called this the principle of the iceberg: “The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”2 And I would add its beauty and awesomeness, its fascination and attraction, and also its risks. Borrowing Hemingway's term, and adapting it to the second-story writer and reader, I would say that the writer of second-story constructions submerges things because he knows them, leaving the tip of the iceberg as a clue that there is something more to reckon with, that there is more than meets the eye; the reader must know that icebergs are mostly hidden, and must know almost as much as the writer. The writer does something to give the reader a feeling for that story just as surely as if the writer had stated it. The reader's role is to complete the hidden part of the story by using whatever clues the writer has given and by matching the writer's degree of cultural competence, the writer's knowledge. We will now look at some examples of second-story construction, all taken from Maupassant, and then consider the implications for theories of reading.

“LA CHAMBRE 11” (1884)

Wife of a provincial magistrate, Marguerite Amandon, whose life is above reproach, “savait … trouver de l'argent pour les pauvres et distraire les jeunes gens par mille moyens” [knew … how to find money for the poor and amuse young people in thousands of ways].3 Under a discreet demeanor, this “petite provinciale délurée, avec son air de bourgeoise alerte, sa candeur trompeuse de pensionnaire, son sourire qui ne dit rien, et ses bonnes petites passions adroites, mais tenaces” [cunning little woman from the provinces, with her brisk bourgeois manner, her deceptive schoolgirl's candor, her smile that said nothing, and her good little deft but tenacious passions] hides feminine ruses more inventive than “toutes les Parisiennes réunies” [all the women of Paris combined] (394). It is the point of this story to reveal how she satisfies her tastes without awakening the least small-town scandal.

Mme Amandon's invention is to find a lover in the army and keep him three years, the time the regiment stays in town: “Dès qu'un nouveau régiment arrivait à Perthuis-le-Long, elle prenait des renseignements sur tous les officiers entre trente et quarante ans—car avant trente ans on n'est pas encore discret. Après quarante ans, on faiblit souvent” [As soon as a new regiment arrived in Perthuis-le-Long, she would inquire about all the officers between thirty and forty—for one is not yet discreet before thirty. After forty, one frequently slackens] (394). With sureness of purpose and practicality of method, she makes her selection, invites him to a ball, and, “en valsant, entraînée par le mouvement rapide, étourdie par l'ivresse de la danse, elle se serrait contre lui comme pour se donner, et lui étreignait la main d'une passion nerveuse et continue. S'il ne comprenait pas, ce n'était qu'un sot, et elle passait au suivant, classé au numéro deux dans les cartons de son désir” [while waltzing, carried away by the rapid movement, intoxicated by the frenzy of the dance, she would press herself against him as if to give herself to him, and would squeeze his hand with a nervous and continuous passion. If he did not understand, he was just a fool, and she would go on to the next one, filed under number two in the folders of her desire] (395). With equal practicality, she has taken a room in a hotel, where she meets her chosen officer: “Elle disait, en dînant, devant les domestiques: ‘Je vais ce soir à l'Association des ceintures de flanelle pour les vieillards paralytiques.’ Et elle sortait vers huit heures, entrait à l'Association, en ressortait aussitôt” [She would say, while dining, in front of the servants, ‘Tonight I am going to the Association of Flannel Belts for Paralytic Old Men.’ And she would go out about eight o'clock, enter the Association, and come right out again] (396). Disguising herself as a little maid under the suggestive name of Mlle Clarisse, she would make her way to “la chambre 11” and the satisfaction of her “senses.” This continues eight years without a problem until, inevitably, given that a story can be made of it, she is discovered.

That disclosure is the very result of her discretion: “Jamais Mlle Clarisse ne venait à ses rendez-vous deux soirs de suite, jamais, étant trop fine et trop prudente pour cela” [Never would Mlle Clarisse come to her rendezvous two nights in a row, never, being too clever and too prudent for that] (397), so the hotelkeeper sometimes uses her room the day following an assignation. But one July when “Madame avait des ardeurs” [Madame is hot with ardor] and her husband is out of town, she plans to come back a second night. The same heat has brought cholera to town, and a traveler allowed to rest in her hotel room dies there on the very day Mme Amandon rejoins her lover. Intending to remove the body under cover of darkness, the hotelkeeper leaves it in the bed, where our provincial belle-de-jour finds it and mistakes it for her sleeping lover: “Une minute, mon chéri, j'arrive” [Just a minute, darling, I'm coming] (398). Dressed only in her “chemise de soie rouge” and her “bas de soie noire à jour” [red silk slip and black silk net stockings], she jumps into bed, “en saisissant à pleins bras et en baisant à pleines lèvres, pour le réveiller brusquement, le cadavre glacé du voyageur!” [clasping fully in her arms and kissing fully on his lips, in order to wake him up instantly, the glacial cadaver of the traveler!] (399). At last Mme Amandon's prudence and discretion fail her, as she runs screaming into the hall, arousing the entire hotel, to fall finally into her lover's arms crying: “Sauvez-moi, sauvez-moi, Gontran. … On a tué quelqu'un dans notre chambre” [Save me, save me, Gontran. … Someone has been killed in our room] (399).

When the police commissioner arrives, “[il] leur rendit la liberté, mais [il] ne fut pas discret. Le mois suivant, M. le Premier Amandon recevait un avancement avec une nouvelle résidence” [(he) gave them their liberty, but (he) was not discreet. The next month, Magistrate Amandon received an advancement with a new residence] (400). On this elliptic last sentence ends the tale, thereby purporting to accomplish the intention of the opening sentences of the story, in which there is the mere hint of a frame. There, a knowledgeable but unnamed narrator in dialogue with an unnamed narratee offers to supply the missing explanation of the magistrate's promotion out of Perthuis-le-Long: “Comment! vous ne savez pas pourquoi on a déplacé M. le premier président Amandon?—Non, pas du tout.—Lui non plus, d'ailleurs, ne l'a jamais su” [“What! you don't know why presiding magistrate Amandon was relocated?” “No, not at all.” “Neither has he ever known, for that matter”] (393). The last statement, upon reflection, is an enigma worth recalling at the end of the tale. For it is clear that the answer to the initial question—why the magistrate was relocated—is a further riddle, to which only a second story will supply the correct answer. Inserted neatly between the “indiscretion” of the police commissioner, which would be the first line of the second story, and the promotion and new residence of Amandon, its outcome, the second story is one the narratee tells himself.

In truth, only an indiligent reader would fail to fill in the missing lines of the second story, which establishes the connection between the downfall of the wife and the elevation of the husband. So common a story is it that our narrator need only give its opening and its closure; he assumes that the narratee will competently supply the rest (although it must be admitted that seven out of eight modern-day seminar students who read this story needed a short course in feminine ruses and masculine politics of the past): Mme Amandon has surrendered to pressure from high places—if she has not, indeed, offered herself, for the police commissioner's leniency had to be rewarded, and the receiver of his indiscretion placated.

Beyond these repayments of sorts, one has to adduce that Mme Amandon has so well pleased her husband's boss that he has rewarded her by promoting him. Although the details (the how, the where, the when) are completely up to us, the competent reader must at least acknowledge the existence of the system of exchange practiced by women for whom a husband's career and advancement justify any measures. Such a reader must be learned in the cynical literary tradition that presents this reality as one of the common variants on feminine strategy or masculine ascendancy. This dialogue from a Balzac story, about an elegantly dressed, unknown young woman, succinctly translates that tradition to an aristocratic salon: “Comment, Martial, tu n'as pas deviné la femme de quelque sous-préfet de la Lippe ou de la Dyle qui vient essayer de faire un préfet de son mari?—Oh! il le sera” [“What, Martial, haven't you guessed that it's the wife of some subprefect of Lippe or Dyle who has come to make her husband into a prefect?” “Oh, he'll be that all right”].4 It is an old story and one whose multiple variations do nothing to obscure the essential fact that what a woman can offer will be rewarded. And in this case, the reward is of stature, testifying at least to Madame's talents.

The fact that the narrator acts as if it is completely unnecessary to add the details of the second story only underscores how obvious it is and that it is well-enough begun with the short phrase indicating that the police commissioner was not discreet. With that beginning, the second story suggested here seems to be the only one possible or, more precisely, the only one that the narratee can possibly understand, retroactively, after the ending (“Le mois suivant, M. le Premier Amandon recevait un avancement avec une nouvelle résidence” [The next month, presiding magistrate Amandon received an advancement with a new residence]). The narratological implication is that only one kind of story has that kind of ending, so common and well known as to require no recounting, for the narration leaves the main point of the story, the entire answer to the opening question, in the second-story mode. In other words, for a complete answer to why Amandon was promoted one must supply the second story. It is probably because the events of that story are so predictable that it is a second story, and not a first, for as a first story it would be dull reading—hardly a story worth telling. Thus it has its piquant flavor, or its “wow,” only because it is a second story, which stands in a particular relation to the first.

Because of the second-story construction, a good deal of authority is placed in the hands of the narratee, an obvious double for the reader. With that authority, we can devise the scenarios suggested by the police commissioner's two actions: giving Mme Amandon and her lover their freedom, and revealing his discovery to the unnamed person of power. Mme Amandon will have instantly recognized the terms of the contract offered by the first of these acts; the second she can anticipate. In that sense she is an excellent reader. For the actual reader of the story, however, a question that may never be satisfactorily answered is who makes the first gesture engaging the system of exchange that is the necessary prelude to the promotion the following month. The indications provided in the first story require only that Amandon never learn of “la chambre 11,” so that we must assume discretion by whoever is in a position to promote him—but this identity cannot be ascertained. The very rapid ending and the absence of any further commentary, in particular by the narratee, require the reader's reconstruction and completion of the story by the insertion of the second story, so that the closure of the first story depends entirely on the reader's skill in “writing” the scenes with the police commissioner and the magistrate's boss, and on the desire for completion.

The second story is completely embedded in the first, and it is necessary to the complete intelligibility of the first. The discovery of the second story, parallel to the discovery of the first, requires a competent reader willing to shed his innocence to achieve this end, for in order to find a secret, one must first believe that a secret exists and that it is secret because it is unavowable. Thus we may perhaps affirm that any second story will refer to something better left unsaid—an adulterous love affair, murder, incest, perversion.

The competence called for here might well be considered a particular case of Jonathan Culler's “literary competence,” or even the “semantic competence” Stanley Fish asks for.5 Yet little more is demanded of the reader than to be guided by Mme Amandon's own competence; nor is there much to say about the tip of the iceberg here. The second story functions as if it were self-evident, and most readers will be in complete agreement about it. Indeed, “La Chambre 11” is a straightforward example of second-story construction. The “wow” in this case exists only because of the second-story construction, because the reader enjoys proving his competence and skill, and because the real point of the story lies not in why Amandon was promoted, even though that is the point the narrator claims to be making, but in evoking and engaging the second-story tradition and the reader's competence in it. Our amusement and pleasure lie more in the detection of the hidden second story than in the subject of that story.

“UN MILLION” (1882)

“Un Million” calls for a similar competence and stands in tandem to “La Chambre 11.” Here a young couple, the Bonnins, must produce a child in order to inherit a million dollars from M. Bonnin's aunt, but Bonnin's most laborious efforts only prove his sterility. So ill does he become that he is obliged to abandon the attempt. A fellow employee, Frédéric Morel, “le harcelait d'allusions, de mots grivois, se faisant fort, disait-il, de le faire hériter en vingt minutes” [badgers him with allusions, with bawdy words, boasting to turn him into an heir in twenty minutes] (I, 615). Bonnin comes to see how a wife might adroitly help her husband along, and he makes mysterious allusions to “femmes d'employés qui avaient su faire la situation de leur mari” [employees' wives who had known how to get their husbands a position] (617), giving the example of a man who has “une femme intelligente. … Elle a su plaire au chef de division, et elle obtient tout ce qu'elle veut. Dans la vie il faut savoir s'arranger pour n'être pas dupé par les circonstances” [an intelligent wife. … She was able to make herself attractive to the division chief, and she gets everything she asks for. In life, one has to know how to arrange things so one won't be the victim of circumstances] (618). The last sentence is like a maxim, a statement of the common sense, the cultural know-how, that makes these mysterious allusions into a law of “life” as seen by employees. Knowing how to “s'arranger” may well include adultery if that will prevent one from being the victim of unfair circumstance.

These lines are followed by three questions: “Que voulait-il dire au juste? Que comprit-elle? Que se passa-t-il?” [What exactly did he mean? What did she understand? What happened next?] (618). Through them the narrator marks his distance from the second story: he will tell us neither what kind of social sense Bonnin was alluding to nor what his wife does. These questions are the narratological index of the existence of a second story, again “unavowable” because adulterous and second because untold, though understood without difficulty by anyone sharing that social sense. These falsely ingenuous questions mark the narrator's explicit refusal to tell the second story. Like rhetorical questions, they point to their simple answers unproblematically. We successfully read between Bonnin's lines, just as Mme Bonnin does to determine what to do; like this good and faithful wife, we acquire competence in the cultural context Bonnin has first learned of, and has allusively passed on to his wife. For not only does Mme Bonnin become pregnant, but she succeeds in remaining a good wife, and this is the delightful point of the story's closure.

The tale might have ended with the couple rich but unhappy, for the child is clearly Morel's. Many another Maupassant tale has thus doomed a marriage. Instead, Mme Bonnin adroitly reveals both the origin of the baby and the proof that she will never again commit adultery, thereby concluding the story on a moment of union:

Or, un soir, comme M. Bonnin rentrait chez lui où devait dîner son ami Frédéric Morel, sa femme lui dit d'un ton simple: “Je viens de prier notre ami Frédéric de ne plus mettre les pieds ici, il a été inconvenant avec moi.” Il la regarda une seconde avec un sourire reconnaissant dans l'oeil, puis il ouvrit les bras; elle s'y jeta et ils s'embrassèrent longtemps, longtemps comme deux bons petits époux, bien tendres, bien unis, bien honnêtes.

[Then, one evening, as M. Bonnin came home, where his friend Frédéric Morel was to dine, his wife said to him in a simple tone, “I have just asked our friend Frédéric not to set foot here again, he has been improper (inconvenant) with me.” He looked at her for a second with a grateful smile in his eyes, then opened his arms; she flung herself into them and they kissed for a long, long time, like two good little spouses, very tender, very united, very honest.]


Mme Bonnin's simple sentence, with the understated inconvenant, “tells” the second story in retrospect, just as Bonnin's mysterious allusions “told” it in prospective narration. Bonnin's grateful smile, implying his forgiveness, also furnishes the index of his successful reading of her second story, which remains even for the characters a second story. Here the second story that is untold is essentially similar to the one in “La Chambre 11,” at least to the extent that a wife obtains something good for her husband through an otherwise immoral act. What is interesting is the different reasons why the stories are second. What in “La Chambre 11” is treated as so common and well known as to require only a beginning and an ending, that any competent reader will enjoy filling in, is treated in “Un Million” as if it were morally reprehensible, not of course to Maupassant's readers, who on the contrary are amused, but to the bons petits époux, who prefer to keep the story second.

In “Un Million” the characters themselves are involved in providing the clues to the second story, and not just the narrator; this difference with “La Chambre 11” is significant. It would not be far-fetched to claim that the couple's happiness depends on their shared competence as readers; they are tenderly united, honnêtes, and bons époux at the end only because each has read with equal skill the second story alluded to by the other. No such shared competence marks the Amandons' marriage, in which the second story is kept entirely secret from the husband. There, the reader's only guide is the narratee faintly evoked in the opening few lines, the one who is curious to know why Amandon was promoted. Here, in contrast, both spouses are our models and, indeed, know more, in a sense, than the narrator.

“LA SERRE” (1883)

Just who knows a second story is treated comically in “La Serre.” Mme Lerebour, middle-aged, seems dissatisfied with her husband and has become increasingly bitter and discontented; in bed, she makes veiled reproaches that Lerebour fails to understand and that only make him feel more guilty, and about which he can do nothing. One night, hearing a noise, Lerebour goes out to investigate and returns forty-five minutes later, laughing as he hasn't laughed for years: at the far end of the garden, in a...

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Charles J. Stivale (essay date spring 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Stivale, Charles J. “Duty, Desire, and Dream: Maupassant's ‘La Petite Roque.’” Journal of Narrative Technique 20, no. 2 (spring 1990): 120-33.

[In the following essay, Stivale explores the role and function of narrative desire in “La Petite Roque.”]

A widower overcome by a maddening passion that results in the rape and murder of an innocent adolescent; the power and connivance of local officials who unwittingly succeed in thwarting apprehension of the criminal; the victim's phantasmic “return,” the murderer's remorseful will-to-confess, and a rural functionary's stubborn efficiency that forces the killer's ultimate demise—such are the...

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Gerald Prince (essay date 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Prince, Gerald. “‘Le Horla,’ Sex, and Colonization.” In Alteratives, edited by Warren Motte and Gerald Prince, pp. 181-88. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum Publishers, 1993.

[In the following essay, Prince perceives “Le Horla” as a story about sexual desire, transgression, and colonization.]

The protagonist of Maupassant's second version of “Le Horla” resides in a white house on the banks of the Seine, not far from the forest of Roumare and the capital of Normandy, Rouen.1 His name is unknown to us and so is his age.2 As for his physical appearance, we learn only that he is very tall (48) and that he wears a mustache and a...

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Ileana Alexandra Orlich (essay date May 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Orlich, Ileana Alexandra. “Tracking the Missing Link: Maupassant's ‘Promenade’ and James's The Beast in the Jungle.The Comparatist 18 (May 1994): 71-89.

[In the following essay, Orlich probes links between “Promenade” and Henry James's novella The Beast in the Jungle.]

… An achievement in art or in letters grows more interesting when we begin to perceive its corrections … works of art become still more interesting as we note their coincidences and relations with other works, for then they begin to illustrate other talents and other characters as well: the plot thickens, the whole spectacle expands.”


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Ruth A. Hottell (essay date November 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Hottell, Ruth A. “The Delusory Denouement and Other Strategies in Maupassant's Fantastic Tales.” The Romanic Review 85, no. 4 (November 1994): 573-86.

[In the following essay, Hottell examines the function of the ambiguous denouement of several of Maupassant's fantastic stories.]

Tzvetan Todorov's seminal work, Introduction a la litterature fantastique, establishes the fantastic as a genre, defining it as a hesitation between the supernatural and the uncanny. The supernatural, like fantasy, deals with an “unreal” world, a world not defined in terms of the laws we know. In the world of the supernatural, frogs can turn into princes at the touch of...

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Gale MacLachlan and Ian Reid (essay date June 1995)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: MacLachlan, Gale, and Ian Reid. “Framing the Frame: Maupassant's ‘La Chevelure.’” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 22, no. 2 (June 1995): 287-99.

[In the following essay, MacLachlan and Reid provide a stylistic analysis of “La Chevelure,” focusing on the frame narrative of the story.]

Much of the work of Ross Chambers comprises a serial meditation on the subtle ways in which texts—in particular “readerly” fictions of the nineteenth century—attempt, as he puts it in Story and Situation, “both to produce and to limit meaningfulness” (1984, 35). In his view, various figures and strategies embedded within a narrative may...

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Gerald Mead (essay date fall-winter 1995-96)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Mead, Gerald. “Social Commentary and Sexuality in Maupassant's ‘La Maison Tellier.’” Nineteenth Century French Studies 24, nos. 1-2 (fall-winter 1995-1996): 162-69.

[In the following essay, Mead investigates Maupassant's broad social vision in his story “La Maison Tellier.”]

To most readers, Maupassant offers two faces. On the one hand, he is widely read as a lucid and ironic observer of the petty vices, crude passions and stupidities of otherwise unremarkable individuals populating the peasant and urban classes of nineteenth-century French society. More intriguing to current criticism is a face that appeared later in Maupassant's work, that of the...

(The entire section is 4105 words.)

Sally Leabhart (essay date spring 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Leabhart, Sally. “No Free Rides: Descriptive Frame as Ideology in Maupassant's ‘L'Aveu.’” Symposium 50, no. 1 (spring 1996): 40-9.

[In the following essay, Leabhart offers a structural examination of Maupassant's “L'Aveu.”]

Guy de Maupassant's short story “L'Aveu” is, on several counts, about being taken for a ride. Whereas Céleste is the only passenger in the literal sense, those being transported unwittingly and idiomatically include, in different ways and according to different points of view, not only Céleste, her mother, and Polyte, but the implied reader as well. The text itself has in common with Céleste that both carry an unseen...

(The entire section is 5065 words.)

Amy B. Millstone (essay date 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Millstone, Amy B. “Maupassant's ‘Bed 29,’ or the Case of the Tainted Patriot.” Romance Language Annual 8 (1997): 59-65.

[In the following essay, Millstone explores the figure of the prostitute in “Le Lit 29” and reflects “on the ways in which the very structure of Maupassant's tale supports his unorthodox definition of service to country.”]

Ne prostituez pas ces mots de patrie et de patriotisme


From Geneviève, patron saint of Paris, to Joan of Arc, the virgin warrior martyred by the English and finally canonized in 1920,1 to Marianne,...

(The entire section is 6203 words.)

Shelley Thomas (essay date summer 1999)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Thomas, Shelley. “The Prostitute/Mother in Maupassant's ‘Yvette.’” Esprit Createur 39, no. 2 (summer 1999): 74-84.

[In the following essay, Thomas considers Maupassant's portrayal of woman as virgin/mother/whore in “Yvette.”]

Nineteenth-century French literature was particularly prolific in fostering the notion of the dichotomized female: on the one hand a whore, on the other, a Madonna. Included in the term Madonna is both the virgin and the mother, for she was both pure and a maternal figure. When an author focuses on one element or another, he fragments womankind, denying, in effect, the possibility of integration and wholeness. In addition, he...

(The entire section is 4860 words.)

Janneke van de Stadt (essay date summer 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Stadt, Janneke van de. “Seeing ‘Amiss’ or Misreading ‘A Miss’: Imperfect Vision in Maupassant's ‘Les Tombales.’” Dalhousie French Studies 51 (summer 2000): 37-44.

[In the following essay, Stadt asserts that “Les Tombales” “reveals itself to be a metacritical tale whose principal theses are misinterpretation and narrative autonomy.”]

By the time Guy de Maupassant published “Les Tombales” in 1891 it was becoming increasingly clear that he was losing his prolonged battle with syphilis. Eleven years earlier a syphilitic lesion had been diagnosed in the nerve of his right eye which caused excruciating migraines and resulted in a...

(The entire section is 4496 words.)

Philip G. Hadlock (essay date winter 2002)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Hadlock, Philip G. “(Per)versions of Masculinity in Maupassant's ‘La Mère aux monstres.’” French Forum 27, no. 1 (winter 2002): 59-79.

[In the following essay, Hadlock discusses the function of the monster in “La Mère aux monsters.”]

Few subjects seem to have intrigued Guy de Maupassant as much as monsters. His short stories are replete with deformed and disfigured beings whose presence conditions the trajectory of the narrative as well as the relationship between the narrator and the reader. It is perhaps not surprising that Maupassant would so heavily populate his tales with monsters. As he suggests in his chronicles, the male author himself is...

(The entire section is 8547 words.)

Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Betts, Christopher J. “Surface Structure and Symmetry in Maupassant: An Alternative View of ‘Deux Amis.’” The Romanic Review 88, no. 2 (March 1997): 251-67.

Offers a stylistic analysis of “Deux amis.”

Calder, Martin. “Something in the Water: Self as Other in Guy de Maupassant's “Le Horla”: A Barthesian Reading.” French Studies 52, no. 1 (January 1998): 42-57.

Explores the theme of language in the diary version of Maupassant's “Le Horla.”

Cogman, P. W. M. “Maupassant's Unacknowledgeable Puns.” French Studies Bulletin, no. 53 (winter 1994): 8-11....

(The entire section is 463 words.)