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Summary Article: Maupassant, Guy de
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(gē dӘ mōpäsäN'), 1850–93, French novelist and short-story writer, of an ancient Norman family. He worked in a government office at Paris and became known c.1880 as the most brilliant of the circle of Zola. He poured out a prodigious number of short stories, novels, plays, and travel sketches until 1891, when he went mad. He died in a sanitarium. Maupassant's style and treatment of subject resemble those of Flaubert in classic simplicity, clarity, and objective calm. Maupassant is a modern exemplar of traditional French psychological realism; he portrays his characters as unhappy victims of their greed, desire, or vanity but presents even the most sordid details of their lives without sermonizing. His best novels are considered to be Une Vie (1883, tr. A Life), about the disillusioning life of a lonely woman; Bel-Ami (1885), describing the career of a selfish journalist; Pierre et Jean (1888), a study of the hatred of two brothers; and Notre Cœur (1890, tr. Our Hearts), showing the emotional life of an unhappily married man. His short stories, 300 in all, are superior to the rest of his work, and many of them are said to be unsurpassed in their genre. A list of his masterpieces would include “Boule de suif” (“Tallow Ball”), “L'Héritage” (“The Heritage”), “La Parure” (“The Necklace”), “La Maison Tellier” (“The House of Mme Tellier”), “Clair de lune” (“Moonlight”), “La Ficelle” (“The Piece of String”), “Mlle Fifi,” and “Miss Harriet.” Maupassant had tremendous influence on all European literature, and his works are often translated.

  • See studies by E. D. Sullivan (1954, repr. 1971);.
  • A. H. Wallace (1973), and S. Jackson (1938, repr. 1974).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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