Guy De Maupassant (1850 to 1893) was an very successful and highly productive writer. He wrote six short novels, over 200 short stories and a vast amount of journalism. He is often called a father of the modern short story. He was a protege of Gustav Flaubert. Guy De Maupassant made a very good amount of money from his writings. He served in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. For ten years after the war he was a civil service clerk. Flaubert, who knew his mother, encouraged him to pursue his literary interests. One of his first short stories, about a prostitute during the Franco-Prussian, war was proclaimed a masterpiece by Flaubert and was hugely popular. From the success of this De Maupassant began a career as a professional writer. Through Flaubert he became friends with Zola and Turgenev. Henry James considered Pierre Et Jean a small masterpiece both for its style and for the great psychological depth shown in the work.
In both George Sand's Indiana and in Pierre Et Jean we can see the authors have given serious reflection on the methods of narrating a story. I take this to be at least in part the result of the influence of Flaubert. We can see Sand struggle with this issue in the first half of Indiana. De Maupassant in his marvelous preface to Pierre Et Jean reflects on what he feels the role of the literary artist should be in the face of the demands of the reading public:
In short the reading public is made up of many groups crying out to us 'Console me', 'Amuse me', 'Make me sad', 'Make me dream', 'Make me laugh', 'Make me shudder', 'Make my cry', 'Make me think'. Only a few minds ask the artist: 'create something beautiful in the form that best suits you and according to your own temperament'
Pierre eventually discovers why his younger brother received the inheritance. What he learns is crushing and has still the power to shock us. Pierre Et James is considered a kind of transitional work in late 19th century fiction. I really enjoyed this book. It is a near perfect example of the art of the short novel.
De Maupassant lead an interesting if short life (43 years). One bit of trivia I found very interesting was the fact that he once saved the English poet Charles Swinburne from drowning. You can see for sure the influence of Flaubert in this story in its minute observations and its efforts to particularize people and in the narrative mode. The introduction to the book by Robert Lethbridge gives us useful cultural background on the novel. The second half of the introduction does contain spoilers and I read it after I finished the book and suggest others do the same. I think Oxford World Classic paper backs normally have very good introductions and the production quality is high and the print is not too small. I have mentioned this before but I think anyone interested in the 19th century novel would enjoy Flaubert: A Biography by Frederick Brown. The prose in the translation is beautiful.
I am including this book for these challenges.
New Authors Challenge (means new to you)
Mutual Reads (Victorian Era novels)
Themed Reading Challenge (my theme is Flaubert and Friends)
French Historicals Oh La la! Reading Challenge.