*Enval. French resort in which the novel opens with a description that creates a mood of the overpowering force of nature that persists throughout Mont-Oriol: “the charm of the little village, amid the shadow of gigantic trees, whose gnarled trunks seemed as large as the houses. Besides this they were drawn there by the fame of the gorges at the end of the weird valley, which opens on the great plain of Auvergne and ends abruptly, at the foot of a high mountain studded with ancient craters, in a wild rift filled with fallen and overhanging rocks.”
Enval is the site of a natural spring that William Andermatt buys from a peasant named Oriol and develops into a health spa that he calls Mont-Oriol, after Oriol’s lovely daughters.
*Auvergne (oh-VERN). Historical region of southern France that plays a dominant role in the novel, not only because Guy de Maupassant’s descriptions of the unique environment maintain a haunting mood, but because the unique setting is essential to the plot. The love-starved Christiane Andermatt is carried away by the hypnotic spell of nature, and Paul Bretigny, the fop who becomes her lover, is captivated by her refreshingly genuine emotions. Her money-hungry husband William is captivated by the opportunity to make a fortune by investing in a new resort that will exploit the newly discovered mineral spring. His business dealings force him to make return trips to Paris, thus providing Christiane and Bretigny ample opportunities to be alone together and to consummate their adulterous passions under the spell of nature. Their first sexual liaison, which ultimately leads to the birth of a bastard child, is the emotional high point of the novel. There, Maupassant makes explicit his thesis that environment shapes character and behavior:If they had lived in a city, their passion, no doubt, would have been different, more cautious, more sensuous, less airy and less romantic. But there, in that green country, whose horizon widened the emotions of the soul, alone, with nothing to distract, to diminish their wakened instinct of love, they had thrown themselves suddenly into a wildly poetic tenderness of ecstasy and fancy. The landscapes around them, the warm breeze, the woods, the fragrant odors of this country, sang to them through all the days and the nights the music of their love.
When Maupassant first visited this region in 1885, he realized that it offered an ideal background for a novel because it could bring together a cross section of French society—aristocrats, bourgeois, professionals represented by doctors and nurses, working class types who catered to the tourist trade, and the peasants who were the original inhabitants of a region being “gentrified” because of its exploitable resources—mineral water, cheap land, and scenic beauty. It would have been difficult for Maupassant to have found anywhere else in France a setting that would bring together as broad an assortment of contrasting characters.
By contrast with the romanticizing Paul and Christiane, Father Oriol’s character is shaped by the environment in quite a different way. He is unable to appreciate the beauty in the land where he has lived all his life. To him, as to Christiane’s husband the banker, nature is only something to be exploited for cash. This hard-bargaining, unscrupulous, chronically and justifiably suspicious rustic is one of Maupassant’s typical French peasants. Oriol’s character is shaped by poverty and the heavy labor required to wrest a living from the land for himself and his family. The discovery of the gushing mineral spring on his property not only makes him rich but also offers his daughters opportunities to marry...
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higher. It is only because of the unique character of this specific geographical location that any of these events could have transpired.
Throughout his novel, Maupassant makes it clear that he regards the Auvergne as a sort of natural stage upon which human beings play out their tragicomic roles. The landscape is the main “character” in Maupassant’s Mont-Oriol. It existed in splendid solitude long before any of these people ever came there, and it will continue to exist long after their foolish, selfish, ephemeral lives have ended. Like all great artists, Maupassant understood the effect of contrast. His masterful descriptions of the pristine environment make the reader conscious of the paltriness of human aspirations in comparison with nature’s grandeur and the perspective of eternity.
Harris, Trevor A. Le V. “Maupassant’s Mont-Oriol: Narrative as Declining Noun.” Modern Language Review 89, no. 3 (July, 1994): 581-594. A close reading of Mont-Oriol, with special attention to the meanings in the names of the novel’s characters. Emphasizes decline as a major theme and technical device.
James, Henry. Partial Portraits. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970. Contains the frequently quoted essay “Guy De Maupassant.” Originally published in 1888, this succinct and lucid analysis of Maupassant’s literary merits and shortcomings, containing some discussion of Mont-Oriol, has never been surpassed by a critic writing in English.
Lerner, Michael G. Maupassant. Winchester, Mass.: Allen & Unwin, 1975. Devotes balanced attention to the transmutations of Maupassant’s life experiences into material for his short stories and novels, including Mont-Oriol. Notes, bibliography, and photographs.
Sullivan, Edward D. Maupassant the Novelist. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978. A study of Maupassant’s six novels, with a chapter devoted to Mont-Oriol. Examines Maupassant’s letters, articles, essays, stories, and other works to trace the painful struggle of an acknowledged master of the short story to develop into an equally accomplished novelist.
Wallace, A. H. Guy de Maupassant. New York: Twayne, 1973. An excellent introduction to the life and works of Maupassant. One section is devoted to a discussion of Mont-Oriol. Chronology, endnotes, and a selected bibliography.