While I am on my short stories reading spree, how can I not talk about the ‘Master’ himself? Guy de Maupassant. Born on August 5th 1850 in France, Guy de Maupassant is considered the father of modern short stories. He wrote 6 novels, 3 travel books, one volume of verse and 300 short stories. His stories are credited for inspiring most film adaptations second only to Shakespeare. Writers like Somerset Maugham and O’Henry considered Maupassant their model.
What is so special about his stories, you ask? Then let me tell you about my favourite Maupassant stories.
Ball of Fat
His first published short story. This is often considered a masterpiece and why not? The story is heart-rending. As a prostitute and the high and mighty of the French society share a carriage ride, they first ignore her but eventually warm up to her to take a share of the food she carries. In certain turn of events, they are prevented from travelling further by a German officer who takes a liking to the prostitute, Elizabeth. As Elizabeth wins their freedom at the cost of her dignity they shun her. ‘She weeps for shame’ they whisper to each other.
‘And Ball-of-Fat wept continually, and sometimes a sob, which she was able to restrain, echoed between the two rows of people in the shadows’. People in the shadows, Aah! See the way he writes.
This is a story I had read a long time back as part of my school text and the story has stayed with me since. The story is about Matilda ‘She was one of those pretty, charming young ladies, born, as if through en error of destiny, into a family of clerks’ who borrows a diamond necklace from a friend to wear to a party and then she loses it. They spend all their savings and borrow money to buy a replacement for her friend and struggle for 10 years trying to repay the debt. If you have recalled the story I am sure you are smiling now. And if you haven’t, well read it because there is a twist at the end.
A Piece of String
A touching story about a peasant who picks up a piece of string from the roadside and is wrongly accused of stealing a pocket book containing 500 francs. And though he proves his innocence in front of the mayor, the news travels to the village and people refuse to believe his innocence. They call him a ‘Rogue’ as he makes futile attempts to clear his name.
‘A little bit of string- a little bit of string- see, here it is , M’sieu’ Le Maire’
While most of his short stories are a withering criticism of the French society and the dark side of people, he is also credited with writing some great horror stories like The Inn or The Horla. These however are attributed to his mental illness. In fact a lot of stories written during that period are about loneliness, hallucinations and suicide, reflective of his state of mind.
Confined to an asylum in Paris, Maupassant passed away in 1893.
As opposed to the Idealistic and Romantic literature which prevailed during the 19th century, Maupassant wrote about every day events and normal people. No wonder his stories have a recurring theme of poverty, greed, hypocrisy, prostitution, infidelity and lonliness, which could be the reason for his immense popularity. There is a lot to learn from his writing style as well. While there is always an underlying theme or message in all his stories, they are not preachy, written simply, he is a master of the show-don’t-tell style.
I have only read about a 1/10th of his work so far, but I aim to read more of his work by this year end. He is the primary reason I have thought of learning French [And Russian, just so I could read Anna Karenina in the original, but let’s leave that for another time] time and again [and no, I haven’t yet gotten around to doing it], just so I could read his works in the original.
Have you read Maupassant? What are your favourite stories?