In his chapter on Mont-Oriol in Maupassant the Novelist, Edward D. Sullivan writes, “In August 1885 Maupassant, visiting Chatel-Guyon in Auvergne, was profoundly impressed by the natural beauty of the region, and determined to use this setting as a background for his next novel.” It is an indication of Guy de Maupassant’s genius that he was confident of his ability to create a cast of believable characters to people an empty landscape. The imagination that was responsible for Maupassant’s fame and fortune tortured him with horrible hallucinations and drove him to attempt suicide before his death in a sanatorium.
Henry James gives an incisive one-sentence evaluation of Maupassant’s works in an essay on the French author: “M. de Maupassant sees human life as a terribly ugly business relieved by the comical, but even the comedy is for the most part the comedy of misery, of avidity, of ignorance, helplessness, and grossness.” This sentence could serve as a capsule summation of the theme and thesis of Mont-Oriol. Maupassant’s descriptions of the beauty of nature, including those of the pure water gushing from the mountain spring, are contrasted with his depictions of the ugliness of human behavior. He peoples his pristine landscape with fools and hypocrites. Maupassant was a cynic, but always an amusing cynic. His avaricious peasants and hypocritical doctors provide much of the comedy in Mont-Oriol.
It is noteworthy that Christiane Andermatt is the only character who changes, indicating that the novel is her story. She loses the girlish innocence, romanticism, and vulnerability that at first make her so irresistible to the jaded Paul Brétigny. Gontran de Ravenel remains a playboy from beginning to end. William Andermatt remains a greedy businessman. Paul remains an attitudinizing Don Juan. Christiane, however, ends up cynical, cunning, spiteful, and, above all, disillusioned. Her disappointment with human nature reflects Maupassant’s own disappointment.
Biographers of Maupassant frequently remark on the influence on the author of the pessimistic and misanthropic German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who was Maupassant’s contemporary. “I admire Schopenhauer madly,” Maupassant once wrote in a letter. Here is a characteristic passage from one of...
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