Maupassant, Henri René Albert Guy de

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Maupassant, Henri René Albert Guy de

 

Born Aug. 5, 1850, in the Chateau de Miromesnil, near Tourville-sur-Arc, Seine-Maritime Department; died July 6, 1893, in Pari French writer.

Maupassant’s father was from the impoverished gentry; his mother came from a cultivated bourgeois family. Maupassant graduated from the lycée at Rouen in 1869 and served in th army from 1870 to 1871, taking part in the Franco-Prussian War. Until 1880 he worked as a civil servant in various ministries. During the 1870’s he studied literary styles under G. Flaubert, through whom he met the leading French writers and critics of the 19th century, including E. Zola, E. de Goncourt, A. Daudet, and H. Taine, as well as I. S. Turgenev, who introduced him to Russian literature and became his second literary teacher. Maupassant dedicated his first collection of short stories, Madame Tellier’s Establishment (1881), to Turgenev, and wrote two articles about him.

Maupassant opened his literary career in 1880 with a book of poems and the short story “Ball of Fat,” which were distinguished by the sharp antibourgeois attitude and mature mastery that were characteristic of his subsequent work. During the next 11 years, Maupassant wrote six novels, 18 collections of short stories, travel books, plays, numerous articles, and other works. In 1891 his literary career was tragically cut short by mentaillness.

Maupassant was one of the last great French realists of the 19th century. His work rested on a sober, illusionless understanding of the character of the predominant forces in social relationships, the phoniness of bourgeois democracy and politics under the Third Republic, and the vileness of militarism and colonial adventures. Keenly aware of the moral bankruptcy, vulgarity, and egoism of the property-owning classes, Maupassant strove to contrast bourgeois morality with closeness to nature and the truth of natural human feelings. At the same time, the gloomy historical situation after the defeat of the Paris Commune of 1871 and the rising influence of positivism caused him to be pessimistic about the possibility of change in the existing order. Consequently, he sometimes portrayed man as irredeemably lonely (“Solitude”) and helpless in the face of chance (“The Necklace”), illness, passion (“Little Louise Rocque”), death, and the hardships of life. By destroying comforting illusions, his pessimism sometimes became a unique form of social criticism.

Maupassant considered the revelation of “the merciless truth of life” to be the task of art. He championed the artist’s objectivity, clarity and precision of form, and simple, expressive language. He insisted upon the need for a painstaking selection of the facts, which enable the artist to create not a photograph but a reproduction of life that is “fuller, more compelling, more convincing than reality itself” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 8, Moscow, 1958, page 11).

A bold and profound study of life, Maupassant’s short stories are varied in their themes, the social level of their characters, their narrative method, and the author’s tone, which ranges from tragic (“The Port”) and elegiac (“Minuet”) to openly or slyly ironic (“Madame Tellier’s Establishment”) and humorous (“The Relic”). The short stories are distinguished by an intense interest in humanity and by the author’s skill in conveying the heroes’ characters and feelings through their actions and manner of speaking. Maupassant created a whole gallery of bourgeois characters whose private lives demonstrated the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of their feelings and relationships (for example, “Valuables,” “Well-served!”, “A Family Affair,” and “The Heritage”). Although he affirmed the beauty of love (“Moonlight” and “Happiness”), Maupassant regretfully depicted its profanation and perversion into a market transaction or a dirty amusement (“Yvette” and “A True Story,” for example). In his stories about the life of the people he showed not only the greed and ignorance of the French peasant (for example, “The Little Cask” and “The Devil”) but also the horrible fate of people cast into the lower depths of life (“The Tramp,” “The Cupboard,” and “The Beggar”). However, he often found moral purity and humaneness (“Simon’s Papa” and “Martin’s Daughter”), sincere patriotism, and a capacity for heroism among the common people (“Ball of Fat,” “Mademoiselle Fifi,” and “Uncle Milon”).

In his first novel, A Woman’s Life (1883), Maupassant gave the universal theme of the clash between romantic dreams and the crudeness of life a precise social and historical content. The fate of the heroine, a pure, defenseless woman, stands for the tragedy of humanity in a society dominated by bourgeois pragmatism. Bel-ami (1885), a novel about a careerist, develops into a sharp, polemical exposé of the political mores of the Third Republic. The intrusion of the spirit of profit-making and bourgeois enterprise into family life and intimate relationships is the theme of the novels Mont Oriol (1886) and Pierre and Jean (1887–88). In Maupassant’s last novels, The Master Passion (1889) and Notre Coeur, or a Woman’s Pastime (1890), his social focus narrows, and the emphasis shifts to problems of “pure psychology.”

Maupassant’s works are characterized by strict inner artistic logic, conciseness, and precision and clarity of what A. France referred to as their “genuine French.” The outward simplicity of the prose conceals a complex mastery of the interweaving and virtuosic use of the literary and conversational styles, of the linguistic wealth of French.

Many of Maupassant’s short stories were adapted for the stage. (The best of them was the comedy Family Peace, which was based on the short story “At the Bedside” and first staged in 1893.) Like his plays, the adaptations were presented in Paris theaters (Mademoiselle Fifi, staged in 1896; Yvette, 1901; Ball of Fat, 1902) and on the Russian and Soviet stage (Mademoiselle Fifi, 1914, and Bel-ami, staged in 1951 under the title, M. Durois). Film adaptations have included the Austro-French movie Bel-ami (1955) and the French movie A Woman’s Life (1958).

In Russia, Maupassant’s works were translated and published in the 19th century. Turgenev was the first to champion the French writer. L. N. Tolstoy thought highly of Maupassant’s talent and understood his conflicts and inner psychological drama. The importance of Maupassant as an artist was emphasized by A. P. Chekhov, A. I. Kuprin, M. Gorky, A. V. Lunacharskii, and other Russian writers.

WORKS

Oeuvres complètes, Libraire de France edition [vols. 1–15]. Paris, 1934— 38.
Contes et nouvelles, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1956–57.
Romans. Paris, 1959.
Correspondance inédite. Collected by A. Artinian and E. Maynial. Paris [1951].
In Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–13. Moscow, 1938–50.
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–12. Moscow, 1958. [Introductory article by lu. Danilin.]
Izbr. proizv. Leningrad, 1938. [Introductory article by A. Smirnov.]
Izbr. proizv., vols. 1–2, Moscow, 1954. Introductory article by N. Khutsishvili.

REFERENCES

Tolstoy, L. N. “Predisl. k Soch. Giui de Mopassana.” Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 30. Moscow, 1951.
France, A. “Gi de Mopassan i frantsuzskie rasskazchiki.” Sobr. soch. v 8 tt., vol. 8. Moscow, 1960.
Raskin, B. “Gi de Mopassan.” In the collection Pisateli Frantsii. Moscow, 1964.
Lunacharskii, A. V. “Predisl. k Novellam Mopassana,” Sobr. soch. v 8 tt., vol. 5. Moscow, 1965.
Evnina, E. M. “Mopassan.” In her book Zapadno-evropeiskii realizm na rubezhe XIX-XX vekov. Moscow, 1967. Pages 42–80.
Danilin, lu. I Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo Mopassana. Moscow, 1968.
Lanu, A. Mopassan. Moscow, 1971.
Dumesnil, R. Guy de Maupassant. Paris, 1947. (Includes bibliography.)
Thoraval, J. L’Art de Maupassant d’après ses variantes. Paris, 1950.
Vial, A. Guy de Maupassant et Van du roman. Paris, 1954. (Includes bibliography.)
Artinian, A. Pour et contre Maupassant. Paris, 1955.
Lemoine, F. Guy de Maupassant. Paris [1957].
Sullivan, E. Maupassant: The Short Stories. New York, [1962].
Ignotus, P. The Paradox of Maupassant. [London, 1966.]

B. L. RASKIN