"The essence of life is the smile of round female bottoms, under the shadow of cosmic boredom." -- Guy De Maupassant
Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant (; 5 August 1850 — 6 July 1893) was a popular 19th-century French writer, considered one of the fathers of the modern short story and one of the form's finest exponents.
A protégé of Flaubert, Maupassant's stories are characterized by their economy of style and efficient, effortless dénouement. Many of the stories are set during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s and several describe the futility of war and the innocent civilians who, caught in the conflict, emerge changed. He also wrote six novels.
"Every government has as much of a duty to avoid war as a ship's captain has to avoid a shipwreck.""It is better to be unhappy in love than unhappy in marriage, but some people manage to be both.""It is the lives we encounter that make life worth living.""Patriotism is a kind of religion; it is the egg from which wars are hatched.""The simplest of women are wonderful liars who can extricate themselves from the most difficult dilemmas with a skill bordering on genius."
Henri-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850 at the château de Miromesnil, near Dieppe in the Seine-Inférieure (now Seine-Maritime) department. He was the first son of Laure Le Poittevin and Gustave de Maupassant, both from prosperous bourgeois families. When Maupassant was eleven and his brother Hervé was five, his mother, an independent-minded woman, risked social disgrace to obtain a legal separation from her husband.
After separating from her husband, Le Poittevin kept her two sons, the elder Guy and younger Hervé. With the father’s absence, Maupassant’s mother became the most influential figure in the young boy’s life. She was a woman of no common literary accomplishments, but was very fond of classic literature, especially Shakespeare. Until the age of thirteen, Guy happily lived with his mother, to whom he was deeply devoted, at Étretat, in the Villa des Verguies, where, between the sea and the luxuriant countryside, he grew very fond of fishing and outdoor activities. At age thirteen, he was sent to a small seminary near Rouen for classical studies.
In October 1868, at the age of 18, he saved the famous poet Algernon Charles Swinburne from drowning off the coast of Étretat at Normandy. As he entered junior high school, he met the great author Gustave Flaubert.
He first entered a seminary at Yvetot, but deliberately got himself expelled. From his early education he retained a marked hostility to religion. Then he was sent to the Rouen lycée, where he proved a good scholar indulging in poetry and taking a prominent part in theatricals.
The Franco-Prussian War broke out soon after his graduation from college in 1870; he enlisted as a volunteer and fought bravely. Afterwards, in 1871, he left Normandy and moved to Paris where he spent ten years as a clerk in the Navy Department. During these ten tedious years his only recreation and relaxation was canoeing on the Seine on Sundays and holidays.Gustave Flaubert took him under his protection and acted as a kind of literary guardian to him, guiding his debut in journalism and literature. At Flaubert's home he met Émile Zola and the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, as well as many of the protagonists of the realist and naturalist schools.
In 1878 he was transferred to the Ministry of Public Instruction and became a contributing editor of several leading newspapers such as Le Figaro, Gil Blas, Le Gaulois and l'Echo de Paris. He devoted his spare time to writing novels and short stories.
In 1880 he published what is considered his first masterpiece, "Boule de Suif", which met with an instant and tremendous success. Flaubert characterized it as "a masterpiece that will endure." This was Maupassant's first piece of short fiction set during the Franco-Prussian War, and was followed by short stories such as "Deux Amis", "Mother Savage", and "Mademoiselle Fifi".
The decade from 1880 to 1891 was the most fertile period of Maupassant's life. Made famous by his first short story, he worked methodically and produced two or sometimes four volumes annually. He combined talent and practical business sense, which made him wealthy.
In 1881 he published his first volume of short stories under the title of La Maison Tellier; it reached its twelfth edition within two years; in 1883 he finished his first novel, Une Vie (translated into English as A Woman's Life), 25,000 copies of which were sold in less than a year. In his novels, he concentrated all his observations scattered in his short stories. His second novel Bel-Ami, which came out in 1885, had thirty-seven printings in four months.
His editor, Havard, commissioned him to write new masterpieces and Maupassant continued to produce them without the slightest apparent effort. At this time he wrote what many consider to be his greatest novel, Pierre et Jean.
With a natural aversion to society, he loved retirement, solitude, and meditation. He traveled extensively in Algeria, Italy, England, Brittany, Sicily, Auvergne, and from each voyage he brought back a new volume. He cruised on his private yacht "Bel-Ami," named after his earlier novel. This feverish life did not prevent him from making friends among the literary celebrities of his day: Alexandre Dumas, fils had a paternal affection for him; at Aix-les-Bains he met Hippolyte Taine and fell under the spell of the philosopher-historian.
Flaubert continued to act as his literary godfather. His friendship with the Goncourts was of short duration; his frank and practical nature reacted against the ambience of gossip, scandal, duplicity, and invidious criticism that the two brothers had created around them in the guise of an 18th-century style salon.
Maupassant was but one of a fair number of 19th-century Parisians who did not care for the Eiffel tower; indeed, he often ate lunch in the restaurant at its base, not out of any preference for the food, but because it was only there that he could avoid seeing its otherwise unavoidable profile. Moreover, he and forty-six other Parisian literary and artistic notables attached their names to letter of protest, ornate as it was irate, against the tower's construction to the then Minister of Public Works.
In his later years he developed a constant desire for solitude, an obsession for self-preservation, and a fear of death and crazed paranoia of persecution, that came from the syphilis he had contracted in his early days. On January 2, in 1892, Maupassant tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat and was committed to the celebrated private asylum of Dr. Esprit Blanche at Passy, in Paris, where he died on July 6, 1893.
Guy De Maupassant penned his own epitaph: "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing." He is buried in Section 26 of the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris.
Maupassant is considered one of the fathers of the modern short story. He delighted in clever plotting, and served as a model for Somerset Maugham and O. Henry in this respect. His stories about expensive jewelry ("La Parure", "Les Bijoux") are imitated with a twist by Maugham ("Mr Know-All", "A String of Beads") and Henry James.
Taking his cue from Balzac, Maupassant wrote comfortably in both the high-Realist and fantastic modes; stories and novels such as "L'Héritage" and Bel-Ami aim to recreate Third Republic France in a realistic way, whereas many of the short stories (notably "Le Horla", cited as an inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu", and "Qui sait ?") describe apparently supernatural phenomena.
The supernatural in Maupassant, however, is often implicitly a symptom of the protagonists' troubled minds; Maupassant was fascinated by the burgeoning discipline of psychiatry, and attended the public lectures of Jean-Martin Charcot between 1885 and 1886. This interest is reflected in his fiction.
Maupassant is notable as the subject of one of Leo Tolstoy's essays on art: The Works of Guy de Maupassant.
Friedrich Nietzsche's autobiography mentions him in the following text:
"I cannot at all conceive in which century of history one could haul together such inquisitive and at the same time delicate psychologists as one can in contemporary Paris: I can name as a sample - for their number is by no means small, (...), or to pick out one of the stronger race, a genuine Latin to whom I am particularly attached, Guy de Maupassant."