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Guy De Maupassant

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English Literature

Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) is considered the founder of the modern short story and is a highly influential author from 19th-century France. Guy de Maupassant's many books and short stories focus on realistic depictions of war, prostitution, provincial life, marriage, and infidelity, and it is these topics that appealed to both upper and lower class readers.

Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe; it gives back life to those who no longer exist." 1

Guy de Maupassant: Biography

Guy De Maupassant, Normandy/ guy de maupassant facts, StudySmarterNormandy, Pixabay

Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850, in the Normandy region of France. His father, Gustave de Maupassant, belonged to an old Lorraine family and his mother, Laure le Poittevin, was childhood friends with the famous novelist Gustave Flaubert. Maupassant's parents separated when he was 11 years old and he went to live with his mother and younger brother, Herve, in Etretat. The landscape of Etretat, between the countryside and the sea, had a great influence on Maupassant, who developed a passion for nature.

Guy de Maupassant is a pen name. Maupassant's actual name is Henry-Rene-Albert-Guy de Maupassant. He belonged to a minor aristocratic Lorraine family and was thought to have been born in the Chateau de Miromesnil.

Sent to a seminary school in Yvetot when he was 13 years old, Maupassant deeply disliked religion and religious studies, which led to his expulsion from the seminary school in 1868. He then went to a high school in Le Havre and graduated in 1869. While there he succeeded academically and took a special interest in poetry. In 1869 he began to study law in Paris, but when the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 broke out, Maupassant dropped out and volunteered to fight.

Guy De Maupassant, Franco-Prussian War/ guy de maupassant facts, StudySmarterFranco-Prussian War of 1870, Pixabay

The time Maupassant spent in the army and his experiences with war appear in a number of his short stories and novels. The Franco-Prussian War lasted between 1870 and 1871, when northern German states united under the leadership of Germany and invaded France to gain more territory. France was defeated and many soldiers, such as Maupassant, lived with horrific memories of the war.

In 1871, with the conclusion of the war, Maupassant continued his law studies in Paris and with help from his father obtained a post at the Ministry of Marine. In 1879, he was transferred, again with his father's help, to the Ministry of Public Instruction. A few years prior, in 1867, Maupassant became an acquaintance of the famous novelist Gustave Flaubert. When Maupassant returned to Paris after the war, Flaubert took a special interest in him, teaching him about prose style and literature. He was also introduced to many famous authors such as Emile Zola and Ivan Turgenev.

When Flaubert died in 1880, Maupassant was devastated, as he saw Flaubert as a father figure. In 1880, Maupassant, along with 5 other writers, contributed to the Les Soirees de Medan, which focused on short stories about the Franco-Prussian War. His short story Boule de Suif (1880) helped popularize his work, and he left his ministry position to write articles for newspapers such as the Le Gaulois and the Gil Blas. Between 1880 and 1890, Maupassant published nearly 300 short stories as well as six novels, three travel books, and a volume of verse.

Maupassant also gained a promiscuous reputation for spending a lot of time with prostitutes. In his early 20s, he found out he had syphilis, believed to be congenital as his younger brother, Herve, also suffered from the disease. The physical and emotional impacts of syphilis would affect him for the rest of his life. His experiences with women of both lower and upper classes as well as his experiences with war allowed Maupassant to write pieces that had many angles and perspectives.

In 1888, his brother, Herve, suffered a psychotic break, most likely as a result of syphilis, and died in an asylum in 1889. Maupassant was driven to despair, especially as he also suffered from the disease. In 1892, he attempted to slit his throat, which led to his commitment to an asylum. He died in a nursing home in Paris in 1893 at the age of 42.

Bibliography of Guy de Maupassant

Guy De Maupassant, Bibliography/ guy de maupassant facts, StudySmarterBibliography of Guy de Maupassant, Pixabay

Throughout his writing career, Guy de Maupassant wrote an extensive bibliography that included 300 short stories and six books.

Guy de Maupassant selected books

TitleSummaryQuote
Bel-Ami (1885)Georges Duroy, an ex-soldier in the French army, is a broke railroad worker. Through a series of schemes, he lifts his social status with the help of a journalist's wife. "We breathe, sleep, drink, eat, work and then die! The end of life is death. What do you long for? Love? A few kisses and you will be powerless. Money? What for? To gratify your desires." (Chapter 6)
Pierre et Jean (1888)The story follows Pierre and Jean, who are sons of a retired jeweler. As Pierre is a doctor and Jean is a lawyer, they live a middle-class life until Jean receives an inheritance from the late family friend Leon Marechal. "He tried to picture to himself the frame of mind of a son who had inherited a vast fortune, and who, thanks to that wealth, may now know many long-wished-for delights, which the avarice of his father had prohibited—a father, nevertheless, beloved and regretted." (Chapter 2)
Le Rosier de Madame Husson (1887)Madame Husson is promoting the virtue of chastity and seeks to crown a Rose Queen in her town. The Rose Queen must be a young girl of immense virtue and when no one is a good match, Madame Husson crowns Isidore, a girl who is afraid of everyone. "A little town, in fact, is like a large one. The incidents and amusements are less varied, but one makes more of them; one has fewer acquaintances, but one meets them more frequently." (Chapter 1)

Guy de Maupassant Selected Short Stories

TitleSummary Quote
Boule de Suif (1880)A french prostitute is traveling by train in occupied France, which is in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war. The higher-class people in her coach ignore her until she offers them food which gets the attention of a German soldier. "These six persons formed the foundation of the carriage company, the society side, serene and strong, honest, established people, who had both religion and principle." (Page 10).
The Necklace (1888)Matilda is a selfish lady who desires a rich husband but is limited by her middle-class status as a daughter of clerks. She is married to another clerk and seeks a more luxurious life. "All at once she found, in a satin box, a superb diamond necklace; and her pulse beat faster with longing" (Page 4).
The Horla (1887)This short story follows the diary of a madman who hallucinates that a parasite is draining his life. The hallucination drives the man to insanity. “Certainly solitude is dangerous for active minds. We require around us men who can think and talk. When we are alone for a long time, we people space with phantoms” (Part: July 12).
Madamoiselle Fifi (1882)Set in the Franco-Prussian war, a French laundry worker is in a train car with people of higher social status. A Prussian officer holds the train and integrity is put to the test. "Since the arrival of the Germans, the Church bell had not rung. It was, in fact, the only resistance with which the invaders met in that neighborhood, the resistance of the bell-tower" (Page 103).

Genre and Writing Style of Guy de Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant wrote in the Naturalism genre of literature. Naturalism is a subgenre of Realism that focuses on detachment, objectivity, and social commentary. Naturalism, like Realism, tends to portray characters and settings that could exist in the real world and the plotlines are plausible.

The books and short stories by Guy de Maupassant focus on many themes such as war, prostitution, life in provincial France, religion, marriage, and infidelity. His realistic portrayal of life, especially the lives of those in the middle and lower classes, made his books and short stories accessible to those belonging to any social class.

They were not troops, but a disbanded horde. The beards of the men were long and filthy, their uniforms in tatters, and they advanced at an easy pace without flag or regiment. All seem worn-out and back-broken […] in short they were a mobilized, pacific people, bending under the weight of the gun" (Boule de Suif, Page 1).

Notice how Maupassant describes exactly what is seen. He describes the soldiers as dirty, worn out, and exhausted without any subjective adjectives that might cast any sort of opinion on the soldiers. A realistic portrayal of life, especially one that alludes to social commentaries, such as war, is a key characteristic of Naturalism.

The prolific bibliography of Maupassant makes it difficult to reduce his writing style to one type, but there are a few key similarities that appear in all his short stories and books. Namely, the books and short stories of Maupassant tend to follow a logical, well-organized structure of cause and effect with an introduction, climax, and resolution.

He also dives into the psychology of the protagonist, revealing their innermost thoughts and motivations. In his short story The Horla this is most evident, as the story is told in the form of a diary of a madman. Through this writing style, the reader can understand the protagonist on a personal level, bringing the story to a more realistic and relatable standpoint.

Maupassant's writing style is also considered economical and compact. His short stories and books are on average between 10 and 200 pages and the language he uses is simple and understandable to wide audiences. Maupassant wanted to make his work accessible to readers of all social classes and education levels.

Du Roy was jealous of M. Walter's success. He had thought himself wealthy with the five hundred thousand francs extorted from his wife, and now he felt poor as he compared his paltry fortune with the shower of millions around him. His envious rage increased daily. He cherished ill will toward everyone—toward the Walters, even toward his wife, and above all toward the man who had deceived him, made use of him, and who dined twice a week at his house." (Bel-Ami, Chapter 15)

Notice the use of simple, easy-to-understand words and the plain language Maupassant uses in this excerpt from his book, Bel Ami. The sentences flow logically. We have Du Roy's initial feeling of jealousy followed by his reaction to the feeling which transforms into a rage. Therefore, through the use of clear language we not only are provided an insight into the psychological thinking of the protagonist, but we are also given insight into the writing style of Maupassant.

Guy de Maupassant's Impact on Literature

Guy De Maupassant, literature/ guy de maupassant facts, StudySmarterLiterature, Pixabay

Guy de Maupassant is credited with the reinvention of the short story, making them accessible to all social classes rather than simply catering to upper-class readers. His focus on Naturalism provided a glimpse into the lives of the middle and lower classes and his use of simple language made Maupassant's books and short stories more widespread. With influence from his mentor Gustave Flaubert, Maupassant was able to perfect the short story and influenced famous authors such as Henry James and Honore de Balzac.

Guy De Maupassant - Key takeaways

  • Guy de Maupassant was born in 1850 to an aristocratic household in Normandy, France. His mother left his father when he was young and introduced Maupassant to Gustave Flaubert, who greatly influenced Maupassant's writing career.
  • Guy de Maupassant wrote 300 short stories, six books, and three travel books during his short writing career focusing on themes such as war, prostitution, the daily lives of the middle and lower classes, marriage, and infidelity.
  • Guy de Maupassant wrote in the naturalism genre of writing and his writing style was economic and compact. He often dived deep into the psychology of his protagonists.
  • Guy de Maupassant had a promiscuous reputation and contracted syphilis in his early 20s. His struggle with syphilis and the death of his younger brother from syphilis led to a mental breakdown. He died at a nursing home in Paris in 1893, and the young age of 42.

1. Guy de Maupassant, Guy de Maupassant – The Complete Works: Short Stories, Novels, Plays, Poetry, Memoirs and more: Original Versions of the Novels and Stories in French, An Interactive Bilingual Edition with Literary Essays on Maupassant by Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad and Henry James, E-artnow, 2015.

Guy De Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant was an author of many short stories and books from France who is considered to be the father of the modern short story. 

Guy de Maupassant was born in the Normandy region of France. 

The short story The Necklace is about Matilda, a selfish lady who desires a rich husband but is limited by her middle-class status as a daughter of clerks. She is married to another clerk and seeks a more luxurious life. 

Driven to despair by his brother's death and his own struggles with syphilis, Guy de Maupassant attempted suicide in 1892 and was admitted to an asylum. In 1893 he was moved to a nursing home in Paris where died that same year probably due to syphilis. 

Guy de Maupassant wrote in the naturalism genre and his writing style is considered compact and economic focusing on simple language and logical structure. 

Final Guy De Maupassant Quiz

Question

Who is Guy de Maupassant?

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Answer

A French author from the 20th century who is considered the founder of the modern short story. 

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Question

Where was Guy de Maupassant born?

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Answer

In the Normandy region of France.

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Question

Which famous French novelist was a friend to Maupassant's mother and a mentor to Maupassant?

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Answer

Gustave Flaubert

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Question

Why did Guy de Maupassant drop ut of Law school in 1870?

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Answer

He volunteered to fight in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. 

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Which of Guy de Maupassant's short stories helped popularize his writing?

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Answer

Boule de Suif (1880) 

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When did Guy de Maupassant die?

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in 1892 

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What is one of the six books written by Guy de Maupassant?

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Bel-Ami (1885)

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​​​​​What is an example of one of Guy de Maupassant's short stories?


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The Necklace (1888)

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What genre of writing did Guy de Maupassant belong to?

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Naturalism

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What is Naturalism?

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Answer

Naturalism is a subgenre of Realism that focuses on detachment, objectivity, and social commentary. It tends to portray characters and settings that could exist in the real world and the plotlines are plausible. 

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Question

What themes commonly appear in Guy de Maupassant's books and short stories?

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Answer

War, prostitution, life in provincial France, religion, marriage, and infedility. 

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What is Guy de Maupassant's writing style?

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Answer

Logical, well-organized structure of cause and effect; psychological insights into the protagonists; compact and economic writing; plain, simple language

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Who was Guy de Maupassant's audience?

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People of all social classes and education levels

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When was Guy de Maupassant born?

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Answer

August 5, 1850

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