The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story by Frank O'Connor (1965) Chapter Two, "Country Matters" (on Guy de Maupassant, 16 pages)
Frank O'Connor's pick for the best
Guy de Maupassant short story
|From French Public Television Production of|
"The Tellier Mansion"
Also a Pic of French women in Lingerie might be good
for my blog stats!
Frank O'Connor's The Lonely Voice; A Study of the Short Story is far from a faultless work. It seems pretty clear in it that O'Connor was homophobic, perhaps anti-Semitic, and certainly did not see women as close to his equal. This being said, his book is the best and maybe the only book worth reading on the short story. I think O'Connor is near the top of his form when he writes about writers he sees as like himself meaning Chekhov and Turgenev. The writer he seems to most relate to is Guy de Maupassant. His chapter on Katherine Mansfield needs a lot of correction.
The theme of The Lonely Voice is that the short story at its best is about "submerged population groups" that have no one to speak for them. Leaving aside the huge irony that O'Connor seemingly cannot see Gays as historically such a group, I think he is for sure expressing a very fundamental truth. ( I have posted before on several of Guy de Maupassant's short stories and his novella, Jean and Pierre and there is some background information on him in my prior posts.)
O Connor tells us (page 63) that the submerged population group that the very best of de Maupassant's short stories are about is workers in brothels and their clients. O'Connor points out that there is a kind of tragic irony in this in that once de Maupassant started to make real money from his stories about prostitutes he spent the money he made on the stories on prostitutes and died at 43 from a then incurable venereal disease. O'Connor rightly points out that others had written stories about prostitutes before he did but only in a snickering school boy kind of way.
|Madame and the Girls in Church|
"The Mansion Tellier" is O'Connor's pick for the absolute best of the short stories of de Maupassant (out of around 180, I think). It is set in a small town brothel in France, a long way from Paris. It is run by Madame Tellier, who inherited the business. The villagers accept it as just another cash business, more or less. De Maupassant does a very good job of describing the owner, the bouncer, the clients and above all the girls. We do not really learn how the girls wound up in the Mansion Tellier but we know their personalities and what they look like. Clearly tastes ran to more corpulent women in those days and this was not a fancy expensive place so the girls are not great beauties (unlike the ones in the photo from the French TV production of the story-OK just a gratuitous excuse on my part to post a picture of French women in lingerie on my blog!) The place is as much a social meeting, get away from your wife kind of place as it is sex dispensing establishment. One day Madame Tellier gets an invitation to the first communion of her niece. Her brother wants his childless sister to name the girl as her heir. Madame Tellier ends up deciding to close down her house and take all the workers to the communion, a full day trip away, where they will stay overnight at her brother's house.
The wonder of the story is in the reaction of the customers when they find a closed sign on the door as well in the interaction of the girls, the niece, the sister in law and the respectable people at church. De Maupassant creates a perfectly realized world in twenty pages or so. (There is no translator credit given at my source for the story.)
"The Masion Tellier" is a flawless story.
On a side note, once the Japanese began to write short stories and novels in the European style they took as their role model de Maupassant and Flaubert. Many of the best of the Japanese authors from 1910 or so on focused on stories set in what was called "The Water World" of geishas, prostitutes, actresses and tea house/brothels.
I downloaded a Kindle edition of the complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant yesterday. It seems to come to under 2,000 pages and I hope to read all the ones I have not yet read in 2012. It might seem like a lot but Les Miserables was around 1400 pages. I will refrain from posting on all but the ones that seem the very best. I will list them on my short stories page as I read them for my records. I know he wrote a lot of stories really rapidly and the ones he wrote fast I will in turn read rapidly.
You can download all of his translated short stories and most of his longer works from Manybooks.