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Guy de Maupassant and his great novels

An article by Valerie Mamicheva


Guy de Maupassant and his great novels. In 1880 the first Maupassant's book was published, it was a collection of poems, written at the end of the 70-th years of the 19th century (since 1875). The poems of Maupassant didn't exceled in originality, but they were not worse than many others, published in a Press of that time. Its cheerful tone was much alike funny erotic poems of 18th century. 

Also he wrote some articles and literary reviews - "Flaubert", an article about Balzac and "The French poets of 16th century". He tried himself in playwriting and in 1879 one of his plays was performed on a scene of a little theatre. 

In the early creations we find out many attractive features - frankness. lightness and gracefulness of a tongue. But only in "Boule de suif" he found out himself as a writer with his own view of the world, with his incredible manner of telling. In "Boule de suif" all the lifelong experience is focused. The main theme of the story is a war. The theme of a war takes a great place in works of Maupassant, and the word "war" will make him feel a great revolt against a human foolishness and against governments, organizing wars. 

His novels are: "Une vie"(1883), "Bel-Ami"(1885), "Mont-Oriol"(1887), "Pierre et Jean"(1888), "Fort comme la mort"(1889), "Notre coeur"(1890). 

The first novel is "Une vie" ("A life"). It was published in 1883. The famous Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, called "Une vie" the best french novel after "Miserables". Of course, it is really so. 

The main heroine of the novel is Jeanne de Vauds. Having just arrived from a monastery, she is full of romantic dreams and great expectations. Nothing can hesitate her belief in a love and life. And, having met Julien de Lamare, she expect an eternal, faithful and great love. But he's just a "rustic vicont". A little time pass after their marriage and she finds out his betrayal . She's ready to die because of her great grief - her husband, Juliene de Lamare, betrayed her with a maid Rosalie. Her life is just slowly collapsing - event after event, pain after pain: betrayal of her husband, then her maid Rosalie, disappointment in her clergyman; how painful it was to find out her chaste mother was unfaithful to her father. After all broken expectations of her son Paul. These people deceived her, she wanted too much from them. 

Even in her deep senility she can't find the reason of her pain, of her problems. For what? She died, she couldn't endure this grief. Though the novel ends in an optimistic note, because before she dies she holds her grand-daughter on the hands. Now Jeanne hopes that the life of her grand-daughter will be happier. 

The second Maupassant's novel was "Bel-Ami", disclosing the society of that time. It can be said that if "Une vie" asks - what is the reason of all the sorrows and misfortunes, then "Bel-Ami" answers - the society. 

The society is represented by Georges Duroy, he can be called the main face and representative of the society of that time. Though, I suppose, there are two sides of his character - positive and negative. Of course, the positive side is expressed not so much as the negative one. Positive is that he is purposeful, strong man, he knows his job and knows how to get what he wants. But also we can enumerate all the mistakes of the society in common as his negative features of a character - dishonesty, barbarity, ambition, impudence, greed and etc. This register is endless. 

George Duroy is a careerist, he's ready for everything, his goal is to get what he needs. He changes women like gloves, he uses his attraction. George Duroy is very close friend of Madeleine Forestier, and then he marries her, because this way he gets closer to her society, off course, he likes her, but it is gainful for him. He makes Clotilde Marelle fall in love with him, because she uses a popularity in the society. At the same time he is a lover of Mme Walter (she's a wife of a director of the best in Paris newspaper), and then he gets divorced with Madeleine Forestier and marries the young daughter of Mme Walter and this way he fortifies his power in the society. 

Really, in "Bel-Ami" we can see all rich experience of Maupassant. "Bel-Ami" was followed by "Mont-Oriol", next novel. First, Maupassant wanted "Mont-Oriol" to be just a little story, but, during writing it, his idea widened and got new details. As a result, "Mont-Oriol" was finished as a novel . 

"Mont-Oriol" can be called the miscallanea of "Bel-Ami" and "Une vie", because we can watch the life of a woman who is suffering from vices and distresses of the society. Though, in difference from Jeanne de Vauds, Christiane (it is the main heroine) is not obedient to a life and prejudices of the society, she struggles with the society for her life and love. She knows well what she wants and doesn't give up. Christiane is strong passionate woman, but at that time she is romantic and mysterious. maybe, boring life with a husband who loves only money, influenced upon her. Her husband, William Andermatt, need nothing except money, even marriage is not a real marriage for him, if it was inferred without a profit. Of course, he married Christiane with profit, too. 

Christiane desires intensely a love and an admiration , she finds it in a treatment of Paul Bretigny. He loves her. Christiane throws herself into a gulf of the forbidden love with courage. Their love is showed fine and romanticly. Loving, they improve themselves among others, they change. Love is a great power, and we understand it, reading "Mont-Oriol". But it is at first, and then -cold indifference. Why? Christiane is pregnant, and now, where are Paul's tender affection and admiration? They're gone. Now he feels only contempt to a pregnant woman. He is changeable spoiled man. His passion ends as quickly as it begins. 

There's a question - was it a real love or no? Though, we feel an optimistic note in the end of the novel (remember "Une vie"), the new love has begun - pure, true and eternal. It is mother's love to her child, because now Christiane has a daughter. 

I would say that the following novel, "Pierre et Jean" ("Pierre and Jean"), was a result of a vogue to write psychological novels. Maupassant called "Pierre et Jean" a "psychological etude". Definitely, the psychological side of heroes and thir souls, minds are reflected very well in the novel. 

For example, the growing jealousy of Pierre.  He is jealous of his younger brother Jean, which we can see after Jean got a inheritance from Marechal. Then Pierre finds out a shameful secret of their mother, Mme Roland. How clear Maupassant shows all pain, shame, emotions and remorse of poor woman - we all feel sorry for her. Maupassant found out new potential, new creative abilities and feelings in himself during writing "Pierre et Jean". 

The fifth novel of Maupassant is "Fort comme la mort" ("Strong as the death"). It is a little worse than his other works, maybe, a little weaker. But he describes picturesque landscapes, people's emotions, reveals the main problem of the novel - a tragedy of an artist who loses his talent. 

The main hero of "Fort comme la mort" - Olivier Bertin, a painter, is showed just when he loses his artistic talent. Tired of his own works, he can't create any new idea, he feels that he has made all he could, though his love to an art is still alive. And, he loves Anne de Guilleroy very much. Having seen her daughter, Annette, Oliver Bertin stops understanding himself, whom does he love - Anne-mother or her daughter Annette, who is like her mother very much. He loves them both, because they're like two drops of water - mother and daughter. 

The next novel, "Notre coeur" ("Our heart") is beyond compare Maupassant's first works, but if we compare its theme basis, then "Notre coeur" is much better than "Fort comme la mort". In this novel, Maupassant again criticizes the society: fashionable women, tired of amusements, young men bored of their own pomposity. Maupassant shows us a primitive and  stupid society. Andre Mariolle's story is interesting: he acts like Paul Bretigny - money spoiled him, though he is quite a prominent person. The love of Andre Mariolle and Michele de Burn is primitive and foolish, too. Even, at the end of the novel Andre Mariolle began a romance with a maid (Michele know nothing of it) in order not to feel love emotions and pains to Michele. 

Maupasant did not finish his two last novels - he was dying. 

The works of Maupassant are rich and great. Leo Tolstoy bequeathed to read Flaubert, Stendale and Maupassant.

 — Valerie Mamicheva
July, 2001