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Guy de Maupassant was a French writer, remembered as a master of the short story form, and as a representative of the naturalist school of writers, who depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms.
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Key Facts & Information
- Henry-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant was the eldest of the two children of Gustave and Laure, born on Aug. 5, 1850 in Dieppe, France. The couple’s second son, Hervé, was born in 1856.
- His parents separated when he was 11 years old and his mother took custody of Guy and his younger brother, and it was her influence that led her sons to develop an appreciation for literature. But it was her friend Flaubert who opened doors for the budding young writer.
- Although the de Maupassant’s were a free-thinking family, Guy received his first education from the church and at age 13, he was sent to a small seminary at Yvetot that took both lay and clerical pupils. He felt a decided antipathy for this form of life and deliberately engineered his own expulsion for some trivial offense in 1868.
- He moved to the lycée at Le Havre and passed his baccalaureate the following year. In the autumn of 1869, he began law studies in Paris, which were interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-German War.
- De Maupassant volunteered, served first as a private in the field, and was later transferred through his father’s intervention to the quartermaster corps. His firsthand experience of war was to provide him with the material for some of his finest stories.
- De Maupassant was demobilized in July 1871 and resumed his law studies in Paris. His father came to his assistance again and obtained a post for him in the Ministry of Marine, which was intended to support him until he qualified as a lawyer.
- He did not care for the bureaucracy, but was not unsuccessful and was several times promoted. His father managed to have him transferred, at his own wish, to the Ministry of Public Instruction in 1879.
Apprenticeship with Flaubert
- De Maupassant’s mother, Laure, was the sister of Alfred Le Poittevin, who had been a close friend of Gustave Flaubert, and she herself remained on affectionate terms with the novelist for the rest of his life.
- Laure sent her son to make Flaubert’s acquaintance at Croisset in 1867 and asked Flaubert to keep an eye on him. This was the beginning of the apprenticeship that was the making of de Maupassant the writer.
- When Flaubert was staying in Paris, he used to invite de Maupassant to lunch on Sundays, lecture him on prose style, and correct his youthful literary exercises.
- He also introduced him to some of the leading writers of the time, such as Émile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, Edmond Goncourt, and Henry James.
- “He’s my disciple and I love him like a son”, Flaubert said of de Maupassant. It was a concise description of a twofold relationship: if Flaubert was the inspiration for de Maupassant the writer, he also provided the child of a broken marriage with a foster father. Flaubert’s sudden and unexpected death in 1880 was a grievous blow to de Maupassant.
- De Maupassant was one of six writers, led by Zola, who each contributed a short story on the Franco-German War to a volume called Les Soirées de Médan.
- His story, Boule de suif (“Ball of Fat” in English), was not only by far the best of the six, it is probably the finest story he ever wrote.
- In it, a prostitute traveling by coach is companionably treated by her fellow French passengers, who are anxious to share her provisions of food, but then a German officer stops the coach and refuses to let it proceed until he has had relations her. The other passengers force her to satisfy him, and then ostracize her for the rest of the journey.
- As soon as Ball of Fat was published, de Maupassant found himself in demand by newspapers. He left the ministry and spent the next two years writing articles for Le Gaulois and the Gil Blas. Many of his stories made their first appearance in the latter newspaper.
- The 10 years from 1880 to 1890 were remarkable for their productivity; he published some 300 short stories, six novels, three travel books, and his only volume of verse.
- La Maison Tellier (“The Tellier House”, 1881), a book of short stories on various subjects, is typical of de Maupassant’s achievement as a whole, both in his choice of themes and in his determination to present men and women objectively in the manifold aspects of life.
- His concern was with l’humble vérité – words which he chose as the subtitle to his novel Une Vie (“A Woman’s Life”, 1883). This book, which sympathetically treats its heroine’s journey from innocent girlhood through the disillusionment of an unfortunate marriage and ends with her subsequent widowhood, records what de Maupassant had observed as a child, the little dramas and daily preoccupations of ordinary people.
- Perhaps his best-known work, La Parure (“The Necklace”), tells the story of Mathilde, a working-class girl who borrows a necklace from a wealthy friend when she attends a high society party. Mathilde loses the necklace and works the rest of her life to pay for it, only discovering years later that it was a worthless piece of costume jewelry. Her sacrifices had been for nothing.
- This theme of a working class person unsuccessfully trying to rise above their station was common in de Maupassant’s stories.
- De Maupassant’s other most important full-length novels were Bel-Ami (1885), and Pierre et Jean (1888). Bel-Ami is drawn from the author’s observation of the world of sharp businessmen and cynical journalists in Paris, and it is a scathing satire on a society whose members let nothing stand in the way of their ambition to get rich quick. On the other hand, Pierre et Jean tells the tale of a man’s tragic jealousy of his half-brother, who is the child of their mother’s adultery.
Illness and Death
- At some point in his 20s, de Maupassant contracted syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that if left untreated, leads to mental impairment. This was to be the case for de Maupassant, unfortunately. By 1890, the disease had started to cause increasingly strange behavior.
- The fact that his brother died at an early age of the same disease suggests that it might have been congenital. De Maupassant was adamant in refusing to undergo treatment, with the result that the disease was to cast a deepening shadow over his mature years and was accentuated by neurasthenia, which had also afflicted his brother.
- On January 2, 1892, when he was staying near his mother, he tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat. Doctors were summoned, and his mother agreed reluctantly to his commitment.
- Two days later he was removed in a straitjacket, to Dr. Blanche’s Nursing Home in Paris, where he died July 6, 1893, a month before his 43rd birthday.
- Maupassant’s work is thoroughly realistic. His characters inhabit a world of material desires and sensual appetites in which lust, greed, and ambition are the driving forces, and any higher feelings are either absent or doomed to cruel disappointment.
- The tragic power of many of the stories derives from the fact that Maupassant presents his characters, poor people or rich bourgeois, as the victims of ironic necessity, crushed by a fate that they have dared to defy yet still struggling against it hopelessly.
- By the second half of the 20th century, it was generally recognized that Maupassant’s popularity as a short-story writer had declined and that he was more widely read in the English-speaking countries than in France.
- This does not detract from his genuine achievement—the invention of a new, high-quality, commercial short story, which has something to offer to all classes of readers.
Guy de Maupassant Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Guy de Maupassant across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Guy de Maupassant worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Guy de Maupassant who was a French writer, remembered as a master of the short story form, and as a representative of the naturalist school of writers, who depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Authors Online
- Library Hunt
- In Guy’s Time
- Short Story Basics
- Modern Storytellers
- According to Guy
- Judge By The Cover
- False Riches
- Endings of a New Kind
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