Guy de Maupassant

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Sep 25, 2022

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Guy de Maupassant is a French writer and literary journalist born on August 5, 1850 in the castle of Miromesnil in Tourville-sur-Arques (in Seine-Inférieure) and died on July 6, 1893 in the 16th district of Paris.

Related to Gustave Flaubert and Émile Zola, Maupassant left his mark on French literature through his six novels, including Une vie in 1883, Bel-Ami in 1885, Pierre et Jean in 1887-1888, and above all through his short stories (sometimes called tales), such as Boule de Suif in 1880, the Contes de la bécasse (1883) or Le Horla (1887). These works are noteworthy for their realistic strength, the important presence of fantasy and the pessimism that often emerges, but also for their stylistic mastery. Maupassant's literary career was limited to a decade - from 1880 to 1890 - before he gradually sank into madness and died shortly before the age of 43. Recognized during his lifetime, he maintained a leading reputation, which was further enhanced by the numerous film adaptations of his works.

Children and youth

The Maupassant family came from Lorraine (Meuse) and settled in Seine-Inférieure (now Seine-Maritime) in the middle of the 19th century. Guy's father, Gustave de Maupassant - born Maupassant, but who obtained by decision of the civil court of Rouen, on July 9, 1846, the rectification of his name, henceforth preceded by a particle -, a fickle man, married in 1846 Laure Le Poittevin, a lady of the good bourgeoisie. With her brother Alfred, she was a friend of Gustave Flaubert, the son of a surgeon in Rouen who was to have a certain influence on his life. The father of Alfred and Laure is the godfather of Gustave Flaubert.

Laure was a woman of uncommon literary culture, fond of the classics, especially Shakespeare. In 1854, the family moved to the White Castle of Grainville-Ymauville, near Le Havre. In 1856, Hervé, Guy's younger brother, was born. In 1859, Gustave de Maupassant found a job at the Stolz bank in Paris; Guy went to the Napoleon imperial high school. Separated from her unfaithful husband in December 1860, Laure settles with her two sons in Étretat (she will outlive her two sons, like their father).

Guy spent the rest of his childhood in the house "Les Verguies", a large eighteenth century building in Étretat - that Laure on the advice of her brother, Alfred Le Poittevin, acquired before her marriage - where, between sea and countryside, he grew up in the love of nature and outdoor sports; he went fishing with the fishermen of the coast and spoke patois with the peasants. He is deeply attached to his mother.

At the age of 13, he was a boarder at the Ecclesiastical Institution of Yvetot, according to his mother's wishes. It was there that he began to write verses. From his first Catholic education, he will keep a marked hostility towards religion; he will end up being expelled, having written licentious verses.

He was then enrolled in the high school of Rouen, where he proved to be a good student, devoting himself to poetry and participating a lot in plays. His literature teacher was the philologist Alexandre Héron. At this time, he rubbed shoulders with Louis Bouilhet and especially Gustave Flaubert, whose disciple he became.

In 1868, while on vacation in Étretat, he saved the decadent English poet Charles Algernon Swinburne from drowning. Swinburne invited Maupassant to dine at his Chaumière de Dolmancé as a thank you for his courage (this villa, to which Maupassant had been invited on several occasions by Georges E. J. Powell and his friend Swinburne, was located on the Chemin des Haules in Étretat). But what he saw during this meal frightened him: Powell, Swinburne, a monkey and a severed hand (from which he drew the short story La Main d'écorché, which he modified and published in 1883 under the title La Main). Then comes a second meal a few days later: G. E. J Powell sucks the fingers of the severed hand.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1869, he left to study law in Paris on the advice of his mother and Flaubert. The coming war will thwart these plans.

When he was barely 20 years old, Guy de Maupassant enlisted as a volunteer for the Franco-Prussian war. First assigned to the quartermaster's office and then to the artillery, he participated in the retreat of the Normandy armies in the face of the German advance. After the war, he paid a substitute to complete his military service in his place and left Normandy to settle permanently in Paris.

First jobs

In Paris, Guy de Maupassant worked for one year for free at the Ministry of the Navy - he had the title of "unpaid clerk" -, probably from March 1872, in the hope of moving up in the administration. Hired, he spent ten years as a clerk, first at the Navy, then at the Ministry of Public Instruction where he was transferred in 1878 thanks to Gustave Flaubert; he remained there until 1882. In the evenings, he worked hard on his literary works. In February 1875, he published his first tale, La Main d'écorché, under the pseudonym of Joseph Prunier in L'Almanach lorrain de Pont-à-Mousson and Le Bulletin Français published on March 10, 1876, under the signature of Guy de Valmont, his tale En canot. In October 1876, to Catulle Mendès who approaches him to become a Freemason, Maupassant answers: "I want to be never linked to any political party, whatever it is, to any religion, to any sect, to any school; never to enter any association professing certain doctrines, not to bow to any dogma, to any premium and any principle, and that only to keep the right to say bad things about it.

For eight years, from 1872 to 1880, his distraction was boating on the Seine, always in gallant company, on Sundays and during the vacations. He went to Bezons, Argenteuil, Sartrouville, Chatou, Bougival and most often went to the Poulin Inn in Bezons, to the Maison Fournaise in Chatou and to La Grenouillère, a raft-bathing establishment opposite Croissy-sur-Seine. In the company of his friends, "Tomahawk" (Henri Brainne), "Petit Bleu" (Léon Fontaine), "Hadji" (Albert de Joinville), and "La Tôque" (Robert Pinchon), Maupassant formed a merry brotherhood, and took docile girls for rides on the skiff he had bought together and christened Feuille de rose. He calls himself "Maistre Joseph Prunier, canoteur ès eaux de Bezons et lieux circonvoisins".

Before that, at the end of January 1877, the Russian novelist Tourgueniev met him and found him to be quite decrepit (sic), although he would only be twenty-seven years old in August! He was diagnosed with syphilis. This disease - he will die of it - will not cease to poison the existence of the young man, even if he makes fun of it in a letter written on March 2, 1877 to his friend Pinchon:

"You will never guess the wonderful discovery my doctor has just made in me... The pox ... I have the real pox! Well, the real one, not the miserable clap, not the christalline ecclesiastical one, not the bourgeois cockroaches, the leguminous cauliflowers, no, no, the big pox, the one that François I died of. And I am proud of it, woe is me, and I despise above all the bourgeois. Hallelujah, I have the pox, therefore, I am no longer afraid of catching it! ... "

On March 11, 1877, Maupassant takes a treatment based on arsenic and potassium iodide. But this causes him digestive problems; he has to stop it. Ladreit de la Charrière, a doctor at the Ministry of the Navy, sent him to a cure of sulphated water

Still in 1877, Guy Maupassant complained to Tourgueniev that he was losing his hair by handfuls, which was a sign of secondary syphilis. He also complains of persistent migraines that crush his head and prevent him from reading for more than an hour.

Another of Maupassant's activities is hunting: he rarely misses it, dosing the powder of his cartridges and selecting his pointing dogs. The author's hunting activity is especially present in the imagination of the tales.

Literary debut

Flaubert took him under his protection and became for him a kind of literary mentor, guiding his beginnings in journalism and literature. On May 31, 1877, in the studio of the painter Becker, in the VIth district, in the presence of Flaubert, Émile Zola, Valtesse de La Bigne, Suzanne Lagier - Princess Mathilde wanted to come at all costs, masked... The hermit of Croisset dissuaded her - and Edmond de Goncourt, Maupassant and his friends organized a second performance of the play À la feuille de rose, maison turque. At the same time, he went to Mallarmé's house, for his Thursdays at 87, rue de Rome in the XVIIth. In August of the same year of pranks and salons, the young Maupassant took a cure in Leukerbad in the Swiss Valais: Flaubert reported to Tourgueniev: "No news of friends, except young Guy. He wrote me recently that in three days he had fired nineteen shots! That's great! But I am afraid that he will end up going away in semen..." Flaubert, however, is not afraid to call him to order, as evidenced by this letter of August 15, 1878: "You must, you hear, young man, you must work more than that. I suspect that you are a bit shaky. Too many whores! too much boating! too much exercise! yes, sir! The civilized man does not need so much locomotion as the doctors claim. You were born to make worms, make them! "All the rest is vain, starting with your pleasures and your health; shove it up your ass. At Flaubert's, besides Tourgueniev, he met Emile Zola, as well as many writers belonging to the naturalist and realist movements. He wrote a lot of verses and short plays. He also began to provide articles to several important newspapers such as Le Figaro, Gil Blas, Le Gaulois and L'Echo de Paris, and then devoted his spare time to writing novels and short stories. Always encouraged by Flaubert, the old friend of his family, he published in 1879 his first book, a booklet of a hundred pages, Histoire du vieux temps. This one was represented on February 19, 1879 at Ballande, at the Third French Theater, in the form of a comedy in one act and in verse; it was an honest success.

In 1880, having made a connection with Zola, he participated in the collective collection of naturalist writers, Les Soirées de Médan, with his first short story, Boule de Suif, which was an immediate success and which Flaubert described as a "masterpiece that will remain". Maupassant described in his short story the Auberge du Cygne in Tôtes, he also stayed there as did Flaubert who wrote Madame Bovary in part. The same year, the sudden death of Flaubert, on May 8, 1880, left the new writer alone to face his destiny (It is at the Poulin Inn in Bezons that Guy de Maupassant learns by a telegram, the death of his master). On this occasion, he writes a little later: "These blows bruise our spirit and leave a continuous suffering which remains in all our thoughts. I feel at this moment in an acute way the uselessness of living, the sterility of any effort, the hideous monotony of events and things and this moral isolation in which we all live, but from which I suffered less when I could talk with him".

Successful writer

The decade from 1880 to 1890 was the most fruitful period in Maupassant's life: he published six novels, more than three hundred short stories and a few travelogues. Made famous by his first short story, he worked methodically and produced two and sometimes four volumes a year. His business acumen combined with his talent brought him wealth.

Guy de Maupassant talks about his eye problems in 1880. He wrote to Flaubert: "I can hardly see out of my right eye... well, I can hardly write with my right eye closed. In March 1880, he clarifies: "I have a paralysis of accommodation of the right eye and Abadi considers this affection as almost incurable." Doctor Abadie, whom he consulted, recommended the administration of mercury cyanide, and then sent him to Professor Rendu. The following year, on August 7, 1881, Maupassant wrote to his friend Pinchon: "Don't be surprised if this is not my handwriting. I have an eye that says Zola to the other. "

In May 1881, he published his first volume of short stories under the title La Maison Tellier, which reached its twelfth edition in two years. On July 6, he left Paris for North Africa as a special envoy of the newspaper Le Gaulois, he had just enough time to write to his mistress Gisèle d'Estoc: "I have left for the Sahara! Please don't blame me, my beautiful friend, for this quick resolution. You know that I am a vagabond and a mess. Tell me where to address my letters and send yours to Algiers poste restante. All my kisses everywhere... "

During the summer of 1881, the writer, then 30 years old, went to Algeria and Tunisia for the newspaper Le Gaulois. He stayed there for three months, criss-crossing the cities and desert regions. The aim was to understand the anti-French uprisings and their repression. Maupassant was highly critical of the colonial policy then being pursued by France, in a series of articles published anonymously from July 20, 1881. His "Letters from Africa" are signed under the pseudonyms of "Un colon" or "Un officier". However, unlike Lamartine or Hugo, Maupassant did not reveal himself as a radical opponent of the French presence. He points out in an incisive way and under cover of anonymity the real injustices and visible dysfunctions.

He returns to Paris in mid-September after a brief stay in Corsica. Still for Le Gaulois, Maupassant chose the pseudonym "Maufrigneuse", under which he would allow himself his most polemical articles. Maupassant finishes his first novel, which will have cost him six years, in 1883: the twenty-five thousand copies of A Life are sold in less than a year; the work, given its tone, will be initially censored in the stations, but the ban will be quickly lifted. Leo Tolstoy himself will say about this novel: "A Life is a novel of the first order; not only is it Maupassant's best work, but perhaps even the best French novel since Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.

On January 30, 1883, in Gil Blas and under the pseudonym of Maufrigneuse, the short story Auprès d'un mort, a tribute to Arthur Schopenhauer, appeared. On February 27 of that year, his first child, Lucien, was born, a boy he did not recognize, the son of Joséphine Litzelmann, a milliner. A daughter was born the following year, and a third child in 1887, who was not recognized. With the royalties from La Maison Tellier, and to celebrate the birth of his son, Maupassant had a house built, "La Guillette". The house is invaded every summer by Maupassant and his friends.

In November 1883, on the recommendation of his tailor and in order to free himself from material obligations, Guy de Maupassant hired a valet, the Belgian François Tassart.

On December 11, 1883, against the warmongering of France in China (the Treaty of Hué signed by France on August 25, which confirmed Annam and Tonkin, territories conquered by arms, as French protectorates) and because war with China broke out, Maupassant published in reaction, on the front page of the newspaper Gil Blas, "La guerre" (The War), a violent indictment against colonialism and imperialism.

In 1884, he had an affair with Countess Emmanuela Potocka, a rich, beautiful and spiritual socialite. (This Italian and Polish countess was the founder of the Macchabees dinner or died of love for her. The perfumer Guerlain created for her, the perfume Shaw's Caprice) In October of the same year, he finished writing his second novel, Bel-Ami, at the "Guillette".

In his novels, Guy de Maupassant concentrated all his observations scattered in his short stories. Published in 1885, Bel-Ami had thirty-seven printings in four months. And if we add to the literature his very Norman sense of business, Maupassant will say with a laugh: "Bel-Ami is me! Having settled the details of the publication of Bel-Ami in serial form, Maupassant left Paris for Italy on April 4, 1885, in the company of a few friends: Paul Bourget, Henri Amic and the painters Henri Gervex and Louis Legrand, all of whom had the common trait of being "Macchabees" at the home of Countess Potocka. In Rome on May 23, the "Norman Bull" urged his host, Count Primoli, to take him to a brothel in Via di Tor di Nona, near the Farnese Palace. Works of great style, description, conception and penetration flowed from his fertile pen. However, what is he thinking about, on this July 2nd, walking nostalgically along the banks of the Seine in Chatou, five years after Flaubert's death... At the Fournaise Inn, recognized, he was offered a copious lunch, and satiated, the writer wrote on a wall, under a painted dog's mouth: "Friend, beware of the drowning water,

His natural aversion to society as well as his fragile health led him to retirement, solitude and meditation. He traveled extensively in Algeria, Italy, England, Brittany, Sicily, and the Auvergne, and each trip was synonymous with new volumes and reports for the press. He took a cruise on his private yacht, named "Bel-Ami", after his 1885 novel. This cruise, where he passed through Cannes, Agay, Saint-Raphaël and Saint-Tropez, inspired him to write Sur l'eau. There will be a "Bel-Ami II" on which he visits the Italian coast, Sicily, sails from Algiers to Tunis and then to Kairouan. He recounts his journey in La Vie errante. A plaque affixed to the pier in 1953 by the writer's friends commemorates Maupassant's stay in Portofino.

For Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, the account of his travels in the Maghreb contains many racist and Islamophobic stereotypes representative of the colonialist literary topos of his time, Maupassant writes for example:

"One feels that a wild faith hovers, fills these people, bends them and raises them like puppets; it is a mute and tyrannical faith invading the bodies, immobilizing the faces, twisting the hearts. An indefinable feeling of respect, mingled with pity, takes hold of you in front of these thin fanatics, who have no belly to hinder their supple prostrations, and who make religion with the mechanism and the rectitude of Prussian soldiers making the maneuver."

From his travels, he keeps a preference for Corsica; he even places the Corsican peasant above the Norman peasant, because he is hospitable... Anyway, this feverish life, this need for spaces, and often to forget the illness that overwhelms him, do not prevent him from making friendships among the literary celebrities of his time: Alexandre Dumas fils dedicates him a paternal affection. Guy also fell under the spell of the historian and philosopher Hippolyte Taine, who lived during the summer on the shores of Lake Annecy. Guy de Maupassant, who used to go to Aix-les-Bains, visited him sometimes.

If he remains friends with Zola and Tourgueniev, on the other hand the friendship of the writer with the Goncourts does not last long: his frankness and his sharp look at the human comedy do not fit well with the atmosphere of gossip, scandal, duplicity and envious criticism that the two brothers have created around them under the guise of a literary salon in the manner of the eighteenth century... The quarrel with the Goncourts begins with a subscription for a monument to Flaubert.

In 1887, an account of his thermal peregrinations in Auvergne, Mont-Oriol was published, a novel about the business world and doctors, in which Guy de Maupassant, under the influence of Paul Bourget, deploys what was a new science at the time: psychology. In the same way, an anti-Semitism of salon is approached, through the character of William Andermatt in a work tinged with pessimism. In February 1887, Maupassant signed, along with other artists, a petition published in Le Temps "against the erection of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower. The departure takes place on July 8, 1887 at the gas factory of La Villette to Belgium at the mouth of the Scheldt in Heist - then he travels to Algeria and Tunisia. In January 1888, Maupassant stopped in Marseilles and bought the racing ship Le Zingara, then went to Cannes on it. Although he is far from Paris, Edmond de Goncourt is still thinking about him (he falls ill again at the end of the year).

The writer then throws his last strength into writing. In March 1888, he began writing Strong as Death, which was published in 1889. The title of the work is taken from the Song of Songs: "Love is as strong as death, and jealousy is as hard as the grave." On the evening of March 6, 1889, Maupassant dined at Princess Mathilde's house. He met Dr. Blanche and Edmond de Goncourt, but their relationship remained distant. In August 1889, Hervé de Maupassant was again committed to the Lyon-Bron asylum. On August 18, 1889 in Étretat, seeking to ward off fate, Guy gave a party: Hermine Lecomte du Nouÿ and Blanche Roosevelt were among the guests who had their cards drawn by a Moorish woman, and after a play, the party ended with a fire hose fight. The last lanterns are extinguished. On August 20th, the writer and his valet set off. The next day, Guy visited Hervé. The latter died on November 13, 1889 at the age of 33.

The last years

Maupassant's life was increasingly handicapped by his visual problems. He wrote in 1890: "This impossibility of using my eyes... makes me a martyr... I suffer atrociously... some dogs that howl express my condition very well... I cannot write, I cannot see anymore. This is the disaster of my life."

During his last years, Maupassant developed an exaggerated love for solitude, a sickly instinct for self-preservation, a constant fear of death and a certain paranoia, due to a probable family predisposition, his mother being depressed and his brother having died insane, but above all due to syphilis, contracted during his young years. Maupassant was getting worse and worse, his physical and mental state was deteriorating, and his numerous consultations and cures in Plombières-les-Bains, Aix-les-Bains or Gérardmer did not change anything. In May 1889, Guy de Maupassant begins what will remain as his last published novel: Notre cœur (Our Heart); telling the story of the thwarted love of Michèle de Burne and André Mariolle, this painting of worldly manners without denouement is first published in the Revue des deux Mondes in May and June 1890, then in volume that same month of June by Ollendorff, and receives a favorable reception. In mid-July, Maupassant went to Plombières-les-Bains on the advice of his doctors, and then, on July 29, took a short cruise aboard Bel-Ami II.

A month later, in August 1890, Guy de Maupassant begins L'Âme étrangère, which he will never finish. On November 23, 1890, he goes to Rouen for the inauguration of the Flaubert monument, along with Émile Zola, José-Maria de Heredia and Edmond de Goncourt; in the evening, Goncourt notes in his Journal: "I am struck, this morning, by Maupassant's bad appearance, by the emaciation of his face, by his tanned complexion, by the marked character, as they say in the theater, that his person has taken on, and even by the sickly stare of his eyes. He does not seem destined to make old bones.

During the summer of 1891, Guy de Maupassant confided in his friend, the painter Louis Fournier, in Paris: "Nobody recognizes me anymore, it's a fact... I suffer more and more from horrible migraines. Only the antipyrine gives me a little calm... Only I believe that it is because of this poison that I have now terrible gaps in my memory. I miss the simplest words. If I need the word sky or the word house, they suddenly disappear from my brain. I am finished."

In 1891, he begins a novel, L'Angélus, which he does not finish either. On December 31, he sends a farewell letter to Doctor Cazalis, these are his last lines: "I am absolutely lost. I am even in agony. I have a softening of the brain from the washing I did with salt water in my nasal cavities. A salt fermentation has taken place in the brain and every night my brain flows out of my nose and mouth in a sticky paste. It is the imminent death and I am crazy! My head beats the countryside. Farewell friend, you will not see me again!

During the night of January 1 to 2, 1892, he attempted suicide with a pistol (his servant, François Tassart, had removed the real bullets). He broke a window and tried to open his throat. He suffered a shallow wound on the left side of his neck. In Paris, Laure de Maupassant consults the psychiatrist Emile Blanche, who deems it necessary to bring the writer to Paris to commit him to Passy. He sent a nurse to Cannes to take care of Maupassant and put him in a straitjacket, and before putting him on the train, he was made to contemplate his yacht for a long time, in the hope of a beneficial psychic shock.

He was interned in Paris, on January 7, 1892, in Doctor Blanche's clinic, room 15 - this was to be his only universe from then on. For example, on August 17, Edmond de Goncourt wrote in his diary that, according to Doctor Blanche, Maupassant "has the physiognomy of a true madman, with a haggard look and a mouth without spring.

On July 6, 1893, at eleven forty-five in the morning, Maupassant died of general paralysis, one month before his forty-third birthday, after eighteen months of almost total unconsciousness. On the death certificate is written "born in Sotteville, near Yvetot", which opens the polemic about his birthplace.

On July 8, the funeral took place at the church of Saint-Pierre-de-Chaillot in Paris. He is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris (26th division). Émile Zola pronounces the funeral oration: "I do not want to say that his glory needed this tragic end, a deep repercussion in the intelligences, but his memory, since he suffered from this terrible passion of the pain and the death, took in us I do not know which majesty sovereignly sad which raises it to the legend of the martyrs of the thought. Apart from his glory as a writer, he will remain as one of the men who were the happiest and the most unhappy on earth, the one in whom we best feel our humanity hoping and breaking, the brother adored, spoiled, then disappeared in the middle of tears... "

A few days after the funeral, Émile Zola proposed to the Société des gens de lettres to erect a monument to his memory. The monument was inaugurated on October 25, 1897 in the Parc Monceau, with Zola giving a speech.

In 1891, Guy de Maupassant had confided to José-Maria de Heredia: "I entered literature like a meteor, I will leave it like a thunderbolt."

Aesthetic principles

Maupassant defined his conceptions of narrative art in particular in the Preface to Pierre et Jean entitled Le Roman in 1887-1888.

For him, the novelist who must implement everything "to produce the effect that he pursues that is to say the emotion of the simple reality, and to release the artistic teaching that he wants to draw from it, that is to say the revelation of what is really the contemporary man in front of his eyes", for him indeed "the great artists are those who impose to the humanity their particular illusions".

Rejecting the Romantic novel and its "distorted, superhuman, poetic vision" as well as the Symbolist novel marked by the excesses of psychologism and artistic writing, Maupassant adheres to the ideal of an "objective novel" in search of realism, but conscious of the limits of the latter. For him, "realism is a personal vision of the world that he (the novelist) seeks to communicate to us by reproducing it in a book" and to do this the novelist makes, from his personality, a choice in the real. "It is always us that we show", he declares as he affirms that the novel is an artistic composition, "a skilful grouping of small constant facts from which the definitive meaning of the work will emerge". Maupassant thus also rejects naturalism with its heavy documentation and its demonstrative ambition of a total realism à la Zola, but he practices a realism without moral exclusivity towards the sordid reality as during the death of Forestier in Bel-Ami or the bitch in gésine in chapter X in Une vie.

Maupassant seeks the sobriety of facts and gestures rather than psychological explanation, because "psychology must be hidden in the book as it is hidden in reality under the facts in existence". This sobriety also applies to the descriptions, thus breaking strongly with the Balzacian writing. This taste for density leads Maupassant to privilege the art of the short story: he writes more than three hundred of them and only six novels, in a decade it is true.

Finally Maupassant, paying homage to Flaubert, takes up Buffon's formula according to which "talent is a long patience" and claims a "clear, logical and nervous language", opposed to the artistic writing of the years 1880-1890 illustrated for example by the Goncourt brothers.


They are related to the daily life of his time and the different experiences of the author's life, and of course combine with each other.

Normandy, Maupassant's native region, plays an important role in his work with its landscapes (countryside, sea or cities such as Rouen in Une vie or Le Havre in Pierre et Jean) and its inhabitants, whether they are peasants (Aux champs - Toine...), hobereaux and small notables (Une vie) or petit bourgeois (Pierre et Jean). It is not, however, a unique spatial setting, since Paris serves as a backdrop for the great novel Bel-Ami, which shows different socially defined neighborhoods, particularly for the worldly and business circles that are found elsewhere in Fort comme la mort or Mont Oriol. The milieu of small Parisian office workers and the working classes is more present in short stories such as L'Héritage or La Parure for the former, Une partie de campagne or Deux amis for the latter.

The war of 1870 and the German occupation is another important theme, as Maupassant remembers the events of ten or fifteen years earlier: Boule de Suif, Mademoiselle Fifi, Deux amis, Le Père Milon, La Folle, etc.

On the human level, Maupassant is particularly attached to women, often victims (Jeanne in Une vie, Histoire d'une fille de ferme, La Petite Roque, Miss Harriet, etc.) with a notable place given to the figure of the prostitute (Boule de suif, Mademoiselle Fifi, La Maison Tellier, etc.). The theme of family and children is also dear to him, often with the question of fatherhood (Pierre et Jean, Boitelle, Aux champs, L'Enfant, En famille, etc.).

His pessimism: in Le Désespoir philosophique, Maupassant goes even further than Flaubert, who kept faith in his art. A disciple of Schopenhauer, "the greatest destroyer of dreams that has passed on earth", he attacks everything that can inspire some confidence in life. He denies Providence, considers God as "ignorant of what he does", attacks religion as a deception; "man is a beast hardly superior to others"; progress is only a chimera. The spectacle of stupidity, far from amusing him, will end up horrifying him. Even friendship will seem to him an odious deception, since men are impenetrable to each other and doomed to solitude.

Among the other major axes of Maupassant's work are madness, depression and paranoia (Le Horla, Lui?, La Chevelure, Mademoiselle Hermet which begins with the revealing words "Les fous m'attirent" (Madmen attract me)...) and also death and destruction (Une vie, Bel-Ami, La Petite Roque, Fort comme la mort). The pessimistic orientation of these themes where happy love has little place, however, sometimes finds a counterpoint in the theme of water, whether the sea (Une vie, Pierre et Jean), rivers (Sur l'eau, Mouche, Une partie de campagne) or marshes (Amour).

Dominant registers

The realistic register is constant with the choice of details of daily life, social relations, the behavior of the characters and the effects of picturesque language, but the fantastic register strongly marks certain works when the unreal is presented as a possible reality by often exploiting the theme of madness (La Chevelure, La Tombe, Le Horla).

At the same time, the dramatic register often prevails with the presence of the threat (madness in Le Horla, the anguish in front of the death of Bel-Ami...) or of the disappearance (the rape and murder of the little Roque, the separation in Boitelle, the accumulated deaths in Une vie, the suicide of Miss Harriet...). This pessimistic and anguished look at men and life, as well as an often dark vision of social and personal relationships, even allows us to speak of a tragic register in certain cases such as La Folle or Le Père Amable.

Nevertheless the comic register is not absent even if it is often grating. It concerns the comedy of words and gestures as well as of characters with the peasant caricatures ("La Ficelle", "La Bête à Maît' Belhomme") or the character of the deceived husband who is unaware of his situation in Pierre et Jean, and it also reaches the comedy of manners about the world of employees (L'Héritage) or bourgeois upstarts as in Bel-Ami where, for example, love games and financial deals are confused.

The combination of these different registers gives a recognizable coloring to Maupassant's work, which is further enhanced by his own style, marked by the density reflected in the preponderance of short stories in the author's production.

Stylistic and narrative procedures

Maupassant's art is made of balance between the narrative of adventures, the limited and functional descriptions, and the play between direct speech

As far as the organization of the narrative is concerned, Maupassant most often uses a linear narration with possibly a few limited explanatory flashbacks (in Bel-Ami for example).

If the novels are classically in the third person with a dominant omniscient point of view, the short stories present a great narrative diversity that plays with different focalizations and different narrators. One can find third-person narratives intended directly for the reader (Une partie de campagne, Aux champs, Deux amis, Mademoiselle Fifi, Boule de suif) and first-person narratives in which the narrator, a witness, the main or secondary actor, recounts a memory presented as personal (Un réveillon - Mon oncle Sosthène, Qui sait?). He can also address an audience (collective or individualized) and recount an event in his life (Conte de Noël, Apparition, La Main), which justifies the name of tale sometimes used by Maupassant, as for the first-person narratives embedded in a larger narrative where a character tells the main narrator, often quasi-implicitly or by speaking in front of an audience, a story that has been told to him previously (this narrative sometimes taking the form of a manuscript (La Chevelure) or a letter (Lui? ).

Thus the richness of the themes addressed, the personal vision of the world that emerges and the mastery of the art of writing place Guy de Maupassant at the forefront of the prose writers of the nineteenth century; he remains in particular the most outstanding author of short stories in French literature.

Maupassant published some texts under pseudonyms:


Maupassant wrote every week for almost ten years in the newspapers Le Gaulois and Gil Blas; we can therefore estimate the number of chronicles, short stories or tales at almost a thousand.

Collections of short stories

In 2008, Lucien Souny published a collection of short stories, Coquineries, which includes some unpublished texts from the collections of an American university, Claude Seignolle and an anonymous amateur.


Maupassant is one of the most adapted French novelists in the world, both in movies and on television.

The film Guy de Maupassant by Michel Drach (Gaumont), with Claude Brasseur, Jean Carmet, Simone Signoret, Miou-Miou, Véronique Genest and Daniel Gélin, relates the life of the writer.

From The Son's Return, directed in 1909 by D. W. Griffith with Mary Pickford, to the series of eight television films entitled Chez Maupassant, broadcast on France 2 in 2007, there have been more than 130 adaptations of the writer's works for both the small and the big screen.

These include (in alphabetical order):


Maupassant's case has attracted the attention of many doctors.


  1. Guy de Maupassant
  2. Guy de Maupassant
  3. [1] Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime, acte de naissance 4E 06/153, vue 19/54, acte 30.
  4. Certaines sources[réf. nécessaire] ont cependant longtemps donné comme lieu de naissance le quartier du Bout-Menteux à Fécamp.
  5. Acte de décès à Paris 16e, n° 855, vue 23/31.
  6. Clyde K. Hyder: Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage. 1995, S. 185.
  7. Klemens Dieckhöfer: Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893). Beispielhafte Novellen aus dem Werk des französischen Dichters, wie sie sich in der Sichtweise der zeitgenössischen Psychiatrie widerspiegelten. In: Medizinhistorische Mitteilungen. Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Fachprosaforschung. Band 36/37, 2017/2018, S. 193–197, hier: S. 193.
  8. E.D. Sullivan: Maupassant the Novellist. Princeton 1954
  9. a b c d e f g Gerda Schüler: Guy de Maupassant. In: Wolf-Dieter Lange (Hrsg.): Französische Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts. III. Naturalismus und Symbolismus. UTB, 1980, S. 236–253
  10. ^ Il luogo esatto di nascita di Maupassant è stato spesso al centro di dispute. I critici Lèon Luis Deffoux e Emile Zavie (Le Groupe de Médan, Crès, 1925) e Georges Normandy (Maupassant, Rasmussen, 1926), basandosi su testimonianze orali, affermarono che Maupassant sarebbe nato a Fécamp al n. 98 di via Sous-le-Bois (oggi quai Guy de Maupassant) presso la nonna materna. Tuttavia l'atto di nascita riporta chiaramente come luogo di nascita il castello di Miromesnil e, anche sulla base di ulteriori considerazioni, Louis Forestier, curatore della pubblicazione delle opere dell'autore nella Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, ritiene chiusa la questione a favore di Miromesnil. Una fonte di dubbio è però l'atto di morte che dice: "Acte de décès de Henri-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant, âgé de quarante-trois ans, homme de lettres, né à Sotteville près Yvetot (Seine-Inférieure)", citando quindi Yvetot (Sotteville è un nome molto comune in Normandia, nella sola Senna Marittima tre località hanno questo nome). Sembra tuttavia ormai chiaro che sia un errore di trascrizione: la Sotteville indicata sarebbe in realtà una corruzione di Sauqueville, e infatti il castello di Miromesnil è a metà strada tra Sauqueville e Tourville-sur-Arques.
  11. ^ Per una dettagliata descrizione della famiglia paterna di Guy cfr. R. Dumesnil, Guy de Maupassant, Paris 1933, p. 43
  12. ^ N. Addamiano, Guy de Maupassant, Roma 1949, pp. 3-5
  13. ^ «Guy venait à peine une fois par an chez moi, à Paris; moi j'allais lui serrer la main de temps en temps - telles étaient nos relations» (Guy veniva da me, a Parigi, a malapena una volta all'anno; io, di tanto in tanto, andavo a stringergli la mano - questi erano i nostri rapporti), cit. in A. Lumbroso, Souvenirs sur Maupassant - Sa dernière maladie - Sa mort, Rome 1905, pp. 466 e ss.
  14. ^ N. Addamiano, cit., p. 36
  15. ^ "Maupassant, Guy de". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 16 July 2021.
  16. ^ "Maupassant". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  17. ^ a b c Alain-Claude Gicquel, Maupassant, tel un météore, Le Castor Astral, 1993, p. 12

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