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Maupassant, Guy de

war prostitute days syphilis

(French, 1850–93)

During his brief life Maupassant, a pupil of Flaubert, produced novels, plays, and journalism, but it is for his short stories that he is remembered. ‘Boule-de-Suif’ (1880) was his first success, about a patriotic prostitute betrayed by snobbery and hypocrisy during the Franco-Prussian war. Prostitution was a favourite subject, but he also wrote about aristocrats, civil servants, Norman peasant life, and the war in which he had served. His style was simple and concise, the tone detached and ironic yet sympathetic. The grimly comic ‘Family Life’ (1881), about the stultifying existence of a civil servant, reflects his own early employment; ‘Mouche’ (1890), about a group of male friends spending summer days on the river with a charming girl, recalls the simple fun of his boating days. Though he could write movingly about the beauties of nature, his ultimate vision was deeply pessimistic. In ‘The Necklace’ (1884), a woman works for years paying off debts incurred replacing a diamond necklace she borrowed and lost, only to find the original was a worthless fake. In ‘Bed 29’ (1884), prostitute Irma contracts syphilis during the war, sacrificing herself by refusing treatment in order to infect as many of the enemy as she can. Maupassant himself contracted syphilis, which led to insanity, the first signs of which appeared the year he published his terrifying story of possession, ‘Le Horla’ (1887). He became reclusive and fearful, suffering delusions and attempting suicide before his death at the age of 42.

Gustave Flaubert, Émile Zola. See FRANCE  CB

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