Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893). Walter Schnaffs’ Adventure & Two Friends.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
De Maupassant’s longer works include “Une Vie” (1883) a pitiful story of the disastrous life of an innocent girl; “Mont-Oriol,” the description of the exploiting of a medicinal spring and the “promoting” of a fashionable watering-place; “Bon Ami,” the career of a handsome but heartless adventurer in financial and journalistic circles; “Pierre et Jean,” one of the most penetrating of his studies of family life; “Fort comme la mort,” and “Notre cœur” (1890). His short stories, on which his fame principally rests, deal with phases of life with which he had himself come into contact. Thus one group is concerned with the peasantry of the Normandy where he spent his youth; another with the life of clerks in government offices; another with society at sea-coast resorts; another with journalism. They are almost without exception the outcome of observation rather than invention; and it is primarily to the quality of his observation that they owe their distinction. He carried “naturalism” to the farthest point it could reach, describing life as he saw it without prejudice and usually without pity. No man ever wrote with less bias in favor of either good or evil, with less of dominating theory, philosophical, ethical, or social. His aim was to find in life materials for art, and to treat these materials without prepossession of any kind. Under Flaubert he had trained himself to great fastidiousness in the choice of the absolutely right word, and he practised a severe economy, using only the kind and amount of detail requisite to bring out the essence of a character or situation. The extent to which, in spite of all this, his work bears the stamp of his personality shows how impossible it is to achieve absolute objectivity so long as art implies selection. But as far as man can go in this direction, De Maupassant went; and he left, after his ten years of feverish activity, a mass of short stories, the best of which are unsurpassed for their firmness of outline, economy of means of expression, and exactness of description. What he pictures is seldom joyous, often ugly and even base and brutal; but his work has the vividness and precision of the most masterly etching.