Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) was probably born at the Chateau de Miromesniel, Dieppe. His paternal ancestors were noble, and his maternal grandfather, Paul Le Poittevin, was Gustave Flaubert's godfather. His parents separated when he was 11 years old. Maupassant grew up in his native Normandy. The gift of a photographic memory enabled him to gather a storehouse of information, which later helped him in his stories about the Norman people.
In his teens Maupassant was shown, by the poet Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909), a mummified hand. He used this haunting image in his early short story 'La Main Ecorchee' (1875). In 1869 Maupassant started to study law in Paris, but soon, at age 20, he volunteered to serve in the army during Franco-Prussian War. After returning to Paris, Maupassant joined the literary circle of Gustave Flaubert. The famous writer was a friend of Maupassant's mother's friend, and introduced his protege to emile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, and Henry James. From Flaubert, who was obsessed with the writer's craft, Maupassant learned the exactness and accuracy of observations, and balance and precision of style. However, Maupassant himself was more light-hearted and more cynical than Flaubert.
Between the years 1872 and 1880 Maupassant was a civil servant, first at the ministry of maritime affairs, then at the ministry of education. He hated to work and spent much of his free time in pursuit of women. As a poet Maupassant made his debut with DES VERS, which appeared in 1880. In the same year he published in the anthology Les Soirees de Medan (1880) his masterpiece, 'Boule de Suif' (Ball of Fat, 1880). The theme of the anthology was the Franco-Prussian War. Other writers included Zola and J.-K. Huysmans, but Maupassant's contribution, considered a manifestation of naturalism, is the most famous. Huysmans, Maupassant, Zola, and Paul Alexis among others were known as Le Groupe de Medan - the name was drawn from the house where Zola lived.
Boule de Suif' is set during the Franco-Prussian War. A well-known prostitute, nicknamed 'Boule de Suif', is traveling in a coach with bourgeois fellow passengers. It has often been said that the American director John Ford borrowed the plot to his film Stagecoach (1939). Ford knew the story, but Ernest Haycox's character study 'Stage to Lordsburg' served for the director as the framework for his famous morality play. Partly for commercial reasons, the Stagecoach team hide their 'arty' source. In the film a group of people travel by stage to Lordsburg, passing through Indian territory. The socially respected passengers turn out to be hypocrites, thieves, and unworthy characters, whereas the outsiders win their faults or show bravery and compassion. Claire Trevor played the good-hearted prostitute Dallas. John Wayne, in the role of the Ringo Kidd, become a star.
During the 1880s Maupassant created some 300 short stories, six novels, three travel books, and one volume of verse. Probably Maupassant fictionalized true occurrences or tales told to him, but his experiences as a reporter and columnist provided him material. In 1881 he reported on the French campaign against Tunisia. In tone, his tales were marked by objectivity, highly controlled style, and sometimes sheer comedy. Usually they were built around simple episodes from everyday life, which revealed the hidden sides of people.
Maupassant's first novel was UNE VIE (A Woman's Life, 1883), a naturalistic story about the life of a Norman woman, whose kindliness is her strength but also a vice. PIERRE ET JEAN (1888) was a psychological study of adultery of a young wife and two brothers. The novel was thought to be immoral - infidelity is not actually condemned. In Luis Buñuel's film version from 1951, the emphasis is on the woman's experience. The ending is, ambiguously, a happy one.
Maupassant had suffered from his 20s from syphilis. The disease later caused increasing mental disorder. Critics have charted Maupassant's developing illness through his semi-autobiographical stories of abnormal psychology, but the theme of mental disorder is present in his first collection, LA MAISON TELLIER (1881), published at the height of his health.
Maupassant's horror fiction consists of some 39 stories, only a tenth of his total. The nightmarish stories have much in common with Edgar Allan Poe's supernatural visions. Recurring theme is madness. 'The Inn' has much similarities with Stephen King's famous novel The Shining. Maupassant describes two caretakers, living in the French Alps in a remote inn, which is surrounded by snow six months and unreachable. When the older caretaker goes missing, the younger in his loneliness loses his reason. 'The Hand' is about a severed, living human hand which. Despite it is chained up, it escapes and strangles its owner. The story has inspired several writers and movie directors, such as Robert Florey, Henry Cass, and Oliver Stone. Maupassant's other supernatural stories include 'The Englishman', 'The Apparation / The Spectre / The Ghost / The Story of a Law Suit', 'Was It a Dream', and 'Who Knows'.
On January 2, in 1892, Maupassant tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat. He was committed to the celebrated private asylum of Dr. Esprit Blanche at Passy, in Paris, where he died next year. Maupassant's style has been imitated by countless writers and his influence can be seen on such masters of the short story as Anton Chekhov, W. Somerset Maugham and O. Henry.
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