Authors: Guy de Maupassant

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

French short-story writer and novelist

August 5, 1850

Château de Miromesnil, Tourville-sur-Arques, France

July 6, 1893

Paris, France

Biography

Henri-René-Albert Guy de Maupassant (moh-pah-sahn), born on August 5, 1850, at Château de Miromesnil, was descended from an old French family; his grandfather was a wealthy landowner in Lorraine, and the writer’s father was a stockbroker in Paris. As a boy, Maupassant went to school at Yvetot, in Normandy, and later attended the lycée at Rouen. During his childhood and youth in Normandy, he observed and absorbed a great deal of the life he was later to use so effectively in his fiction. {$I[AN]9810001504} {$I[A]Maupassant, Guy de} {$I[geo]FRANCE;Maupassant, Guy de} {$I[tim]1850;Maupassant, Guy de}

Guy de Maupassant

(Library of Congress)

Significant in the author’s life was the separation of his parents when he was eleven years old. His mother, a sister of a close friend of Gustave Flaubert, turned to Flaubert for advice after her husband had left her. That association brought Maupassant into French literary circles. Although he was often a member of gatherings that included such famous writers of the nineteenth century as Flaubert, Ivan Turgenev, Émile Zola, and Alphonse Daudet, he seems to have had little interest at the time in a writing career for himself; as an adolescent he was much more interested in sports, especially rowing.

Maupassant’s education was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War, in which he served as a member of the French army. After the war he entered the French civil service, first with the Ministry of the Navy and later with the Ministry of Public Instruction. During the years between 1873 and 1880 he also served a literary apprenticeship under the tutelage of Flaubert. A volume of poetry, Romance in Rhyme, attracted little attention, except to involve its young author in a lawsuit.

Maupassant, realizing his weakness as a poet, concentrated on developing his powers as a writer of prose fiction. Within a short time “Boule de suif,” a short story or conte, appeared in Les Soirées de Médan (1880), a collection of tales which included work by such recognized authors as Zola and Joris-Karl Huysmans. Maupassant’s story about the Franco-Prussian War outshone all the others, and the author’s reputation was made. The lessons he had learned from Flaubert—precision, concision, characteristic and accurate detail—had proved their value, and the work is considered Maupassant’s masterpiece in the genre. Following up his success with vigor, Maupassant published more than thirty volumes of short stories, plays, novels, and travel sketches within the ensuing decade. The first collection of short stories published under his own name was Madame Tellier’s Establishment, and Short Stories, which appeared in 1881.

Mademoiselle Fifi, and Other Stories, a particularly fine collection of short stories, added weight to Maupassant’s growing reputation and popularity in 1882. Like most of his volumes of stories, it contained a relatively long title story and a group of shorter pieces. A Woman’s Life was Maupassant’s first novel. As an example of naturalism in literature, it is a masterpiece. In it is portrayed the life of a Norman woman of the nineteenth century, and disillusionment and heartbreak are presented with the naturalistic writer’s objectivity and frankness. Censorship of this book only increased its popularity, thus contributing to Maupassant’s financial success with the novel and another collection of stories, Contes de la bécasse, published in the same year, as was Clair de lune. The material success he enjoyed as a writer enabled Maupassant to leave the French civil service.

In 1884 and 1885 Maupassant produced a great deal of fiction of very high caliber. To those years belong the short-story collections Miss Harriet, and Other Stories; The Sisters Rondoli, and Other Stories; Toine, and Other Stories; Yvette, and Other Stories; and Day and Night Stories. The best of these deal with the author’s favorite and familiar subjects: the Franco-Prussian War, the peasants of Normandy, and petty bureaucrats of the French civil service. Because of the craftsmanship Maupassant displayed, he became a model for writers in England, France, and the United States. Some authorities have seen in his work the origin of the well-made but stereotyped story common to magazines, a type more notable for its facile style than anything else.

More thoughtfully presented was Bel-Ami, a novel about a vicious rascal whose ugliness of spirit was hidden by his handsome face. A statement of Maupassant’s theory of fiction appeared in his preface to Pierre and Jean, in which he declared himself a complete literary naturalist, approaching his material with objectivity and detachment, describing life with utter frankness and reflecting a personal conception of a deterministic universe. In presenting his theories in practice, Maupassant, like other writers of naturalistic fiction, often became biased in the direction of pessimism in his choice of characters and detail, with the result that readers of his work, especially his novels, may find themselves in a depressing fictional world.

In 1886 and 1887 Maupassant began to show signs of mental illness, which may have resulted from syphilis. A sea voyage to improve his health enabled him to make some gains toward recovery. From that experience he extracted a travel book, Afloat. His difficulties recurred, however, and after 1890 he practically ceased to write. A general paralysis began to assail him, and he experienced severe hallucinations. Maupassant went to Cannes, on the Mediterranean, to spend the winter of 1891 to 1892, but he was taken back to Paris after an attempt at suicide in January, 1892. He died in Paris on July 6, 1893.

Much of Maupassant's work was translated and widely published in English in the decades following his death. His short stories also served as the inspiration for a number of twentieth-century films, from A Day in the Country to Stagecoach to Masculine Feminine.

Author Works Short Fiction: La Maison Tellier, 1881 (Madame Tellier’s Establishment, and Short Stories, 1910) Mademoiselle Fifi, 1882 (Mademoiselle Fifi, and Other Stories, 1922) Clair de lune, 1883 Contes de la bécasse, 1883 Les Soeurs Rondoli, 1884 (The Sisters Rondoli, and Other Stories, 1923) Miss Harriet, 1884 (Miss Harriet, and Other Stories, 1923) Contes du jour et de la nuit, 1885 (Day and Night Stories, 1924) Toine, 1885 (Toine, and Other Stories, 1922) Yvette, 1885 (Yvette, and Other Stories, 1905) Monsieur Parent, 1886 (Monsieur Parent, and Other Stories, 1909) La Petite Roque, 1886, rev. 1896 (Little Rogue, and Other Stories, 1924) Le Horla, 1887 (The Horla, and Other Stories, 1903) Le Rosier de Madame Husson, 1888 L’Inutile Beauté, 1890 (Useless Beauty, and Other Stories, 1911) Le colporteur, 1900 Cinq contes parisiens, 1905 Eighty-Eight Short Stories, 1930 Eighty-Eight More Stories, 1932 Complete Short Stories, 1955 Long Fiction: Une Vie, 1883 (A Woman’s Life, 1888) Bel-Ami, 1885 (English translation, 1889) Pierre et Jean, 1888 (Pierre and Jean, 1890) Forte comme la mort, 1889 (Strong as Death, 1899) Notre coeur, 1890 (The Human Heart, 1890) Poetry: Des Vers, 1880 (Romance in Rhyme, 1903) Nonfiction: Au Soleil, 1884 (In the Sunlight, 1903) Sur l’eau, 1888 (Afloat, 1889) La Vie errante, 1890 (In Vagabondia, 1903) Lettres de Guy de Maupassant à Gustave Flaubert, 1951 Miscellaneous: The Life Work of Henri René Guy de Maupassant, 1903 (17 volumes) Oeuvres complètes illustrées de Guy de Maupassant, 1908–10 (30 volumes) The Works of Guy de Maupassant, 1923-1929 (10 volumes) Bibliography Artinian, Artine. Maupassant Criticism in France, 1880-1940. New York: Russell and Russell, 1941. Despite its title, this important book explores critical reactions to Maupassant’s works both in France and outside France. Artinian also includes thoughtful comments on Maupassant by some of the most important American and European writers of the 1930’s. An essential work for all critics interested in Maupassant. Contains a very thorough bibliography. Bloom, Harold, ed. Guy de Maupassant. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004. Compilation of critical studies of Guy de Maupassant and other essays on his life and work. Brody, Richard. "The Writer Who Sparks the Finest Movie Adaptations." The New Yorker, 29 Oct. 2015, www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-writer-who-sparks-the-finest-movie-adaptations. Accessed 3 Aug. 2017. Describes Maupassant's literary style, discusses the relationship between his stories and later screenplays, and reviews The Necklace and Other Stories: Maupassant for Modern Times, an anthology translated by Sandra Smith. Fusco, Richard. Maupassant and the American Short Story: The Influence of Form at the Turn of the Century. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994. Argues that Maupassant was the most important influence on American short-story writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Focuses on his effect on Kate Chopin, Ambrose Bierce, Henry James, and O. Henry. Arranges Maupassant’s stories into seven categories based on narrative structure. Gregorio, Laurence A. Maupassant’s Fiction and the Darwinian View of Life. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. Fascinating study of the influence of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution on Maupassant’s works. Bibliographic references and index. Harris, Trevor A. Le V. Maupassant in the Hall of Mirrors: Ironies and Repetition in the Work of Guy de Maupassant. New York: Macmillan, 1990. A critical evaluation of Maupassant’s use of irony and repetition. Ignotus, Paul. The Paradox of Maupassant. London: University of London Press, 1966. In this fascinating but subjective interpretation of Maupassant’s genius, Ignotus believes that Maupassant was a paradoxical writer because he was obsessed with sex and was nevertheless a creative genius. At times, Ignotus’s arguments are not terribly convincing, but this book does discuss very well Maupassant’s ambivalent attitudes toward his literary mentor Gustave Flaubert. Jobst, Jack W., and W. J. Williamson. “Hemingway and Maupassant: More Light on ‘The Light of the World.’” The Hemingway Review 13 (Spring, 1994): 52-61. A comparison between Hemingway’s “The Light of the World” and Maupassant’s “La Maison Tellier.” Discusses how both stories focus on a single prostitute rising above stereotypes. Lloyd, Christopher, and Robert Lethbridge, eds. Maupassant: Conteur et romancer. Durham, England: University of Durham, 1994. A collection of papers, in both French and English, commemorating the centenary of Maupassant’s death in 1993. Papers in English on Maupassant’s short stories include an essay on “Mademoiselle Fifi,” David Bryant’s paper “Maupassant and the Writing Hand,” and Angela Moger’s essay “Kissing and Telling: Narrative Crimes in Maupassant.” Steegmuller, Francis. Maupassant: A Lion in the Path. New York: Random House, 1949. In this extremely well-documented biography of Maupassant, Steegmuller describes very well both the nature of Flaubert’s influence on Maupassant and the contacts of Maupassant with such major writers as Émile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, and Henry James. Sullivan, Edward. Maupassant the Novelist. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1945. This volume is a very thoughtful analysis of Maupassant’s novels. Sullivan argues persuasively that Maupassant’s novels do deserve as much critical attention as his more famous short stories have received over the years. Contains a solid bibliography. Sullivan, Edward. Maupassant: The Short Stories. Great Neck, N.Y.: Barron’s, 1962. A pamphlet-length introduction to some of Maupassant’s basic themes and story types. Particularly helpful are Sullivan’s attempts to place Maupassant’s short stories within their proper generic tradition. Wallace, Albert H. Guy de Maupassant. New York: Twayne, 1973. Wallace presents an excellent analysis of recurring themes in Maupassant’s major works. He discusses with much subtlety Maupassant’s representations of war and madness. This well-annotated book is an essential introduction to the thematic study of Maupassant’s major works.

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