Let’s start with some fun facts about the author:
- Gustave Flaubert was his mentor.
- He has written over 300 stories
- He was the child of an unhappy marriage.
- He was a naturalist.
- He contracted syphilis and died in a sanitarium at the age of 43.
- He is considered to be a father of the modern short story.
The nineteen short stories included in this collection are all written and translated very well. Maupassant precisely writes stories of love, society, rivalry, adultery; all filled with an array of darker human emotions: lust, jealousy, fear, guilt, hate, shame.
His novel Pierre and Jean is a quintessential example of simple and realistic writing. The short novel describes a typical sibling rivalry enhanced by the discovery of a mother’s infidelity and consequently, the illegitimate standing of a son and the wedge driven between brothers. While this is the leading story, it was not one of my favorites. I preferred The Roque Girl for its sadness, Marroca for its lightness, and Mad?, for its disturbing turn.
My friend, there are two tortures on this earth that I hope you never experience: lack of water and lack of women. Which is more horrible? I don’t know. In the desert, a man would do anything, however infamous, for a glass of cold, clear water. What wouldn’t he do in certain coastal towns for a fresh, healthy girl? There’s no shortage of girls in Africa, far from it: they’re in plentiful supply. But to continue my comparison, they’re as dangerous and tainted as the foul water of a well in the Sahara.
The one story I was really looking forward to, although I couldn’t pinpoint why, was Le Horla. And it wasn’t until after I read it that I remembered ( years ago, a discussion on Don Quixote’s sanity brought up Maupassant) It kind of makes sense now. Syphilis can make a person go crazy. This story of paranoia and clepto-vampires that will steal your breath, milk and peace of mind is odd, to say the least. But I don’t know that he was crazy when he wrote it…I felt the same way about Cervantes. I think Le Horla is an accurate portrayal of teetering over the edge.
I can easily see how his writing influenced generations of American and European writers. I don’t want to say he perfected a formula for his stories, but he was very successful in writing solid stories by exposing what he observed in the everyday, mixing in a little drama and including a ‘surprise’ ending.