Love: Three Pages from a Sportsman's Notebook

by Guy de Maupassant

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 553

In a brief introduction, the narrator reacts to a newspaper account of a double killing—a male lover kills his beloved and then himself. He observes that the sexes of the murderer and his victim are irrelevant; it is their love that matters. This news release does not affect the no-longer-young narrator for its sentimentality, shock value, romantic longing, or intrigue but merely reminds him of a hunting expedition in which he took part when he was younger. The narrator introduces himself as someone who was born with primitive instincts, although they have been tempered by civilized responses. Hunting, like a great love or a panoramic vista, fills him with a sense of passion and fulfillment. He recalls that he was summoned by an older cousin, Karl de Rauville, to participate in an early morning hunt in the duck marshes of Normandy. He remembers that he left Paris during an unusually premature, cold, savage winter.

His cousin exemplifies the Norman hunting tradition: a tough, spirited country gentleman, a lovable half-brute. The countryside has a hypnotic effect on the narrator. He finds himself transported into a world that he had known only through the imagination. The colors of the country, the sounds of the underbrush, and the mysterious disorder of the universe induce in him a bewildering, powerful, and magical aspect. As the narrator looks over the marshes, this sense of the unknown is reinforced, and he is tortured by the exotic landscape of fog and enchantment.

On arriving at his cousin’s ch_teau, the narrator notices the taxidermist environment: Birds of every plumage are mounted on the walls. As a hailstorm engulfs the region, he hears the plans for the coming day. At 3:30 a.m. they will depart for the marshes, dressed in animal skins and accompanied by two dogs and a forester. From the moment they set out, the frozen atmosphere numbs and transforms them into the same dead objects of early winter that surround them. Even the moon seems frightened by the lurid vastness of the incessant cold.

The hunters and the dogs, breathing with the smoldering, intoxicating anticipation of the kill, march through the almost impenetrable forest until they come on an ice shelter designed to protect the hunters from the ravages of the frozen morning. Karl notices that the narrator is coughing, and he orders the forester to build a fire in the ice hut. The flames shoot up suddenly into the frozen air like a monstrous diamond. The silhouettes of the dogs around the fire assume fantastic shapes.

In this state of heightened consciousness, the narrator is called to the hunt as wild birds fly from their nocturnal hideouts. Nothing in his life has prepared the young protagonist for the tumult of emotions that accompanies the arrival of the birds, flying through crevices in the sky of the glacial dawn. When day breaks, the hunters kill several creatures. Once the dawn is fully established, two ducks appear overhead and the narrator shoots one down. Overhead, he hears the plaintive cries of its mate—the drake lamenting the loss of the female. Karl shoots it because it would never leave on its own. The dogs are happy. The narrator deposits the cold carcass into the bag where its dead partner awaits. Later that day, he returns to Paris.

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