(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

During the months after the Prussian defeat of the French in 1871, Prussian troops occupy many areas of France. Five bored Prussian officers are among the leaders of the force occupying the small Normandy town of Urville, where they live in a castle. Major von Farlsberg is an older bearded officer; Captain von Kelweingstein is an obese man who lost two teeth on his wedding night, although he could not remember how this accident had happened. The major and captain are both married, but both complain that they have not had sex for several months and do not want this situation to continue. The three lower-ranking officers are also bored. Second Lieutenant Wilhelm von Eyrick has shown himself to be brutal and especially harsh toward French people. His fellow soldiers call him “Mademoiselle Fifi” because of his dandified appearance and the fact that he often adds the French words “fi, fi donc” to his German sentences.

After the major again complains about their tedious life in Urville, the captain proposes to organize a feast and orders a corporal to go to nearby Rouen to collect five prostitutes. As the officers await the women’s arrival, they pass their time by blowing up pieces of china and complaining about Father Chantavoine, a local Catholic priest who has refused to ring his church’s bells since the Prussians occupied his town. Mademoiselle Fifi wants to punish the priest, but his superiors argue that it would not look good for the...

(The entire section is 549 words.)