Let’s Discuss — Pierre and Jean and Selected Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant

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.

Interesting, right?

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.

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