Friday, January 28, 2011
"Mademoiselle Fifi" by Guy de Maupassant
Amateur Reader of Wuthering Expectations has recently done some very insightful and inspiring posts on Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893-France) in which tells us what seem to be the consensus on the best short stories of de Maupassant. I have already posted on four works by de Maupassant, including what seems to be regarded as his greatest short story, "Boule de Suif" which is set in the period of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and has as one of its central characters a French prostitute. "Mademoiselle Fifi" is also set during the Franco-Prussian War and has a prostitute as a central character. (My main source of knowledge about de Maupassant comes from Frederick Brown's great book, Flaubert: A Biography. Maupassant was a disciple of Flaubert. For better or worse, both men were very into prostitutes.)
The male characters in "Mademoiselle Fifi" are all German officers occupying a conquered Paris, living in a confiscated chateau. As you might guess, the characters are not portrayed in at all a flattering way. Some evidently regard this story as almost a self parody and I think it may be from the very stereotypical portrayal of the German characters. (Some of Katherine Mansfield stories in A German Pension and Other Stories -1911-also make fun of Germans.) All of the Germans are depicted as very uncultured, pompous and arrogant. All have huge mustaches (I think this is a sign of hyper masculinity in the 1870s) and red or blond hair. One of the officers is called Mademoiselle Fifi by his fellow German officers because he has an effeminate air. He is the worst of all. He is violent and he loves to smash up the beautiful objects of art in the chateau. His manner is contemptuous to all.
The officers in the chateau have been stuck inside for almost three weeks due to heavy rains. They are all very bored. They decide to have a party and they arrange for each of the men to have his own French prostitute for the day. The main French character is a prostitute, Racheal who is identified as Jewish, who is assigned to service the very offensive and insulting to France Mademoiselle Fifi. Perhaps de Maupassant makes use of prostitutes here to show that the lowest elements of French society have more dignity than Prussian army officers (and one would also have to assume using prostitutes in your works increased sales then just as it does now!)
I do not want to tell to much of the plot of the story as the ending is a lot of fun and I am sure it was loved by the target audience of the story. This story is probably not real popular in Germany!
I do not know near enough about the short stories of de Maupassant to say if this story is a kind of "dumbing down for the masses" story or not. It seems written by formula. I do not thing it is a bad story but it does not have the finely crafted feel of "Boule de Suif" or a Katherine Mansfield short story.
If possible, please leave any suggestions you have for best de Maupassant short stories in a comment-thanks