Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Notes For August 5th, 2009


This Day In Writing History

On August 5th, 1850, the legendary French writer Guy de Maupassant was born in Dieppe, France. He grew up in Normandy, where he collected in his photographic memory a vast amount of information he would use in his short stories, which often dealt with the Norman people. Maupassant's parents separated when he was eleven years old. He lived with his mother, to whom he was very close. They lived in the Villa de Verguies, which was located between the sea and the countryside.

In these surroundings, the young Maupassant developed a passion for outdoor adventure and fishing; he would fish with the local fishermen off the coast. In 1868, when he was eighteen years old, Maupassant saved poet Algernon Swinburne from drowning off the coast of Eterat. That wasn't the first writer he met; when he started junior high school, Maupassant met the great novelist Gustave Flaubert, who had been a childhood friend of his mother. Her father was Flaubert's godfather.

After receiving his primary education, Guy de Maupassant entered a seminary, but he got himself expelled, as he came to hate religion and the prospect of joining the clergy. He went to university instead. Shortly after he graduated in 1870, the Franco-Prussian War broke out. The 20-year-old Maupassant volunteered for military service and fought bravely. After the war ended, he returned home and moved to Paris.

Maupassant joined Gustave Flaubert's literary circle. He became Flaubert's protege and was introduced to famous writers such as Emile Zola, Henry James, and Ivan Turgenev. From Flaubert, Maupassant learned the craft of writing. He set out to start his own writing career, supporting himself by working as a civil servant in two different positions. He hated the jobs. For recreation, he canoed on the Seine and pursued women.

In 1880, Maupassant established himself as a short story writer when he published Boule de Suif (Ball of Fat) in the anthology Les Soirees de Medan (Evenings at Medan) along with works by Zola and other writers. Set during the Franco-Prussian War, "Boule de Suif" is the nickname of a well-known prostitute traveling in a coach with some bourgeois passengers. The coach is detained by a Prussian officer who demands that Boule de Suif sleep with him. She refuses, and he continues to detain the coach. The other passengers grow restless and demand that she sleep with the Prussian. She swallows her pride and agrees. Afterward, he allows the coach to leave. The other passengers treat Boule de Suif like she had the plague. Remembering how these hypocrites had devoured the food and drink in the basket she brought with her, all Boule de Suif can do is weep.

Although Guy de Maupassant had written six novels, he was best known as the master of the short story. He wrote over 300 stories, one-tenth of which were horror stories. His most famous horror story was Le Horla (1887). In this disturbing tale, a wealthy young Norman believes that he has unwittingly summoned a horla. Horlas are invisible monsters, cousins to vampires, and they are said to eventually bring about the downfall of Man. As the young Norman grows more fearful of the horla he has summoned, he tries to destroy it. He eventually burns his house down, killing all of his servants. Believing that the horla is still alive, he decides to commit suicide. Was the horla real or just in his mind?

Madness is a recurring theme in Maupassant's stories; in A Night In Paris, the paranoid narrator suffers from a compulsion to walk the streets. In A Madman, a judge commits murder just to see what it feels like to kill, then sentences an innocent man to death for the crime. And in The Inn - which may have inspired Stephen King to write his classic novel The Shining - two caretakers are living at a remote inn in the French Alps that becomes snowed in and unreachable. When one of them goes missing, the other starts to go mad. Or is the inn haunted?

Ironically, Guy de Maupassant's fascination with madness in his writings would soon cross over into real life. He contracted syphilis in his 20's, which went undiagnosed. As the disease progressed over the years, it eroded his sanity. In middle age, Maupassant developed a desire for solitude, a fear of death, and growing paranoia. In January 1892, he attempted suicide by cutting his throat. He was committed to the famous celebrity asylum of Dr. Esprit Blanche, where he died in July 1893, a month before his 43rd birthday.

One of the great masters of the short story, Maupassant's work has inspired the writings of Somerset Maugham, O. Henry, and other great writers. H.P. Lovecraft credited Maupassant's horror tales - especially Le Horla - as the inspiration for his classic The Call Of Cthulhu. All writers of short stories owe it to themselves to read Guy de Maupassant.


Quote Of The Day

“Patriotism is a kind of religion; it is the egg from which wars are hatched.” - Guy de Maupassant


Vanguard Video

Today's video is The Out There, a short film adaptation of one of Guy de Maupassant's short stories. Enjoy!


1 comment:

Roger Poppen said...

Enjoyed this article. As a kid I devoured deMaupassant short stories and still consider them a pinnacle of the form. Thanks for the reminder.

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