Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Maupassant died young and had a brief literary career, he nevertheless ranks as the classic French short-story writer. His literary mentor was Gustave Flaubert, from whom he learned the importance of creating well-crafted and well-organized prose works with multiple levels of meaning. One can, of course, read “Mademoiselle Fifi” at its surface level and interpret it as little more than the description of what happens to an unsympathetic military officer who brings about his own death; however, the story also displays Maupassant’s mastery of irony and understatement. It is, for example, marvelously ironic that a calm parish priest and a prostitute come to realize that they have so much in common. Both respect the dignity of ordinary people. Father Chantavoine wants to be left alone so that he can serve the spiritual needs of his parishioners, while Rachel wants only to practice her profession without hearing provocative remarks from her clients. Father Chantavoine does not approve of Rachel’s profession but wants to save her from a certain death at the hands of the Prussians, who have not shown sufficient respect for basic religious freedoms. Rachel’s decision to stop being a prostitute can be attributed to the heroism of a country priest who saves her life, bringing about her religious and personal transformation.