"A Duel" by Guy de Maupassant - in public domain translation
I cannot let July in Paris on The Reading Life pass without doing a post on a short story by France's master of the form, Guy de Maupassant. He is nearly universally considered one of the founders of the modern short story. He wrote some three hundred stories. De Maupassant supported himself by his writings and I am sure there was a big demand in 1883 for anything that made Germans look bad. France was still smarting from German attack on France and occupation of Paris during the Franco Prussian War (July 1870 to May 1871). Maupassant published a number of short stories in which German soldiers are depicted as boorish swaggering bullies. The brief "A Duel" is a perfect example of such a work.
We are in a train compartment during the occupation. The occupants are three Englishmen there to observe France, a Frenchman, and a German soldier. The German is depicted as a Teutonic beast, bragging to all about he killed twenty French villagers more or less for sport. The Frenchman knows at first to keep silent. The German tells him at the next train stop he is to get of and buy him some pipe tobacco. He tells the Frenchman he will give him a tip. The Frenchman leaves the train but comes back with no tobacco. The enraged German says ok I will take your mustache and smoke that. The Frenchman has had enough and gives the German a sound thrashing. The German demands a dual at the next train stop. I won't totally reveal the ending but I bet it was very popular in Paris.
I read this in a collection of stories translated by Sandra Smith, the award winning translator of Irene Nemirovsky, The Necklace and other Stories: Maupassant for Modern Times. In her very informative introduction she tells us that most people in English now read his works in 100 year old translations and she wanted to reproduce him in contemporary English. Of course contemporary does not mean better but Smith tells us de Maupassant wrote in the idiom of contemporary France. She also talks very interestingly about literary translations. You can read "A Duel" at the link above but if you want a new selection of her works, Sandra Smith's collection would work well.
In the interest of full disclosure I was given a review copy of this book.
Honestly, I've never read Guy de Maupassant, but I did read and love Sarah Smith's translation of Irene Nemirovsky's book. Thank you for this review.
I've never read Guy de Maupassant's works before, but most definitely need to now. A Duel sounds like such a fun short story and I love short stories. I'm definitely checking it out. So glad you posted about it :)
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