Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Boule de Suif" by Guy de Maupassant

"Boule de Suif" by Guy de Maupassant (1880, 15 pages, trans. from the French)

"Boule de Suif" is set in the FrancPierre et Jeano-Prussian war (1870 to 1871).    "Boule de Suif" is considered the first masterpiece of Guy de Maupassant (1850 to 1893-France).    It is the work that first made de Maupassant a star of the French literary scene.    Flaubert said the story would be an enduring master work and he was right.   The popularity of this story created a great demand for future works by the author.  There is not a false note in this wonderful story.   I am so glad I took the time to read it.

So far I have read and posted on two works by de Maupassant.   A short story, "The Confession" and a short novel Pierre et Jean.    The story begins with ten people on a stage  coach leaving Rouen ,France in order to get away from the occupying Prussians.   The people on the stage represent a microcosm of French society.     The title character of the story, Boule de Suif-this translates roughly as "fat dumpling butterball", is a prostitute.   In the culture of the time, such physical characteristics were not considered a negative matter.   There is a suggestion that in the lean times of the Franco-Prussian war, which the French lost (I almost wrote, which "of course" the French lost!) a heavy woman was a comforting and desirable image.    

As the coach proceeds very slowly on through the terrible weather it seem Boule de Suif is the only person on the stage coach with the foresight to bring any food.    Others on the stage, especially the married women and perhaps for show their husbands, are very offended that they must share a coach with a prostitute.    But in time they agree to accept her offer of food and a small effort is made to speak with her by some of the others on the coach.   The interaction between the characters on the stage is brilliantly done.    It exposes the way in which the behavior and perceptions of the people on the stage are dictated by their social position.   It was fun to see the shallow hypocrisy of some of the people on the stage coach exposed.

The plot of the story is just marvelous.   I do not want to tell any more of the action of the story so others will have the pleasure of discovering this story for the first time, just as I have.   As the story ended I felt ashamed for everyone on the stage but one person.

For sure this story will well repay the few minutes it will take you to read it.  

"Boule de Suit" can be read  online here

If anyone has any suggestions as to other short stories I should read please leave a comment

Mel u


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

This is on my list of Must Reads. I don't know if it's particularly better than any number of other Maupassant stories, but it's more important to literary history.

Like many people, the only story I have read is "The Diamond Necklace," which gave me the impression, for a wrong time, that M. was a writer of "trick" stories. Completely wrong!

Have you read any Mérimée. That might be an interesting direction to go, if you haven't, to a key predecessor of Flaubert and Maupassant.

Mel u said...

Amateur Reader-I will be reading some short fiction my Merimee very soon-some of his short stories can be read online in translation-thanks for bring this to my attention