In recent years, I’ve tried to take a more leisurely, thoughtful approach to reading short stories. The good thing about this is a more satisfying reading experience. The downside? It’s taking me a LOT longer to get through a book of short stories!
I started Maupassant’s short story collection last year for Paris in July when I read the first three. Between now and then, I’ve read another two. Another four stories have been read for this year’s Paris in July.
Below are my six latest responses.
Clair de Lune – first published in 1882.
The hand of god sways a man of god to see the light (and love).
That is, a fanatical priest who thinks that women are nothing more than ‘sinful bodies‘ put on earth to tempt and test men (oh please!) discovers his niece is stepping out at night to see a lover. He decides to follow her, but is ‘surprised by the splendid moonlight, of such brilliance as is seldom seen‘ and finds his ‘emotional nature‘ moved ‘by all the grand and serene beauty of the pale sky.’
La bella luna caresses him, delights him, seduces him and causes the Abbe to ‘admire God in His works.‘
‘Why did God make this?‘
He remembers the story of Ruth and Boaz and the verses of the Song of Songs.
He realises that perhaps love begins with god and that ‘perhaps God has made such nights as these to idealise the love of man‘ (and woman!)
Clair de lune is the perfect example of the short story form, with a clear character, setting, plot, conflict and theme.
Miss Harriet – first published in 1883.
Beware the charms of a much younger man!
A story within a story – which is a fairly usual device employed by short story writers. In this case a carriage full of travellers and someone says, ‘tell us a love story‘.
What follows is the rather sad story of an older woman falling for a carefree artist and coming to a tragic end.
Once again, Maupassant uses nature as his setting, ‘what one loves most amid all these varied adventures is the country, the woods, the rising of the twilight, the moonlight….You go to sleep in the fields, amid marguerites and poppies, and when you open your eyes in the full glare of sunlight you descry in the distance the little village with its clock tower which sounds the hour of noon.‘
And once again a religious fanatic (this time Miss Harriet herself) is undone by nature, unrequited love and beauty.
La Parure (The Necklace) – first published in 1884.
Honesty is the best policy – or how we create unnecessary dramas in our lives by being secretive.
This time beauty is in the form of a lovely woman and stunning piece of jewellery,
She danced with rapture, with passion, intoxicated by pleasure, forgetting all in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness composed of all this homage and admiration, and of that sense of victory which is so sweet to a woman’s heart.
But what is real and what is not? And ‘how small a thing is needed to make or ruin us.’
Mademoiselle Perle (Mademoiselle Pearl) – first published in 1886.
Back in Paris, the Chantals live a secluded life, ‘of Paris, the real Paris, they know nothing at all; they suspect nothing; they are so far, so far away.’
For the Chantals all that part of Paris situated on the other side of the Seine constitutes the new quarter, a section inhabited by a strange, noisy population, which cares little for honour, spends its days in dissipation, its nights in revelry, and throws money out of the windows.
This time the love is undeclared and unacknowledged and only finally revealed via the story within a story device used by Maupassant.
‘Didn’t your father ever tell you?‘
But did our narrator do the right by exposing the love? Both he and Maupassant agree that he did for ‘this hour will bring to those two dead souls more happiness in an instant than others can find during a whole lifetime!‘
La Ficelle (The Piece of String) – first publish in 1883.
The boy who cried wolf! Or the difficulty of being believed after a lifetime of manipulation & craftiness.
In the marketplace at Goderville was a great crowd, a mingled multitude of men and beasts. The horns of cattle, the high long-napped hats of wealthy peasants, the head dresses of the women rose above the surface of the throng….Everywhere were the smells of the stable, of milk, of hay, of perspiration, and of that half-human, half-animal odour which is peculiar to country folk.
|Market Day at Trouville Normandy 1878 – Eugene Boudin|
Once again, Maupasant has written the perfect short story.
Character (Maitre Hauchecorne); setting (above); plot (loss of a wallet); conflict (Hauchecorne accused (falsely) of stealing it); theme (worrying about what others think of you will be the death of you – pettiness – hypocrisy – misunderstanding – preconceptions – bias).
This story is full of the senses – sounds, smells, looks and touch. But not everything is as it looks. Looks can be deceiving and liars sometimes tell the truth.
I now have eight more stories to go to complete this collection – by my reckoning that’s two more Paris in July’s!!
One of the joys of this month has been reading my Parisian books in my favourite little local cafe, called Cafe d’Yvoire. It has been one of the driest, warmest July’s on record, although still not really warm enough to sit outside comfortably. Sadly. I’m not a big cake or pastry eater, so I simply enjoy looking at their delicious treats whilst sipping my cappuccino.
Stories 1 – 3: Boule de Suif (or Dumpling or Ball of Fat), Deux Amis (Two Friends) and La Maison Tellier (Madame Tellier’s Establishment)