French writer Guy de Maupassant (August 5, 1850-July 6, 1893) wrote short stories such as "The Necklace" and "Bel-Ami" as well as poetry, novels, and newspaper articles. He was an author of the naturalist and realist schools of writing and is best known for his short stories, which are considered highly influential on much of modern literature.
Fast Facts: Guy de Maupassant
- Known For: French author of short stories, novels, and poetry
- Also Known As: Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant, Guy de Valmont, Joseph Prunier, Maufrigneuse
- Born: August 5, 1850 in Tourville-sur-Arques, France
- Parents: Laure Le Poittevin, Gustave de Maupassant
- Died: July 6, 1893 in Passy, Paris, France
- Education: Institution Leroy-Petit, in Rouen, Lycée Pierre-Corneille in Rouen
- Published Works: Boule de Suif, La Maison Tellier, The Necklace, A Piece of String, Mademoiselle Fifi, Miss Harriet, My Uncle Jules, Found on a Drowned Man, The Wreck, Une Vie, Bel-Ami, Pierre et Jean
- Notable Quote: "If I could, I would stop the passage of time. But hour follows on hour, minute on minute, each second robbing me of a morsel of myself for the nothing of tomorrow. I shall never experience this moment again."
It's believed de Maupassant was born at the Château de Miromesniel, Dieppe on Aug. 5, 1850. His paternal ancestors were noble, and his maternal grandfather Paul Le Poittevin was the artist Gustave Flaubert's godfather.
His parents separated when he was 11 years old after his mother, Laure Le Poittevin, left his father Gustave de Maupassant. She took custody of Guy and his younger brother, and it was her influence that led her sons to develop an appreciation for literature. But it was her friend Flaubert who opened doors for the budding young writer.
Flaubert and de Maupassant
Flaubert would prove to be a major influence on de Maupassant's life and career. Much like Flaubert's paintings, de Maupassant's stories told the plight of the lower classes. Flaubert took young Guy as a kind of protege, introducing him to significant writers of the day such as Emile Zola and Ivan Turgenev.
It was through Flaubert that de Maupassant became familiar with (and part of) the naturalist school of writers, a style that would permeate nearly all of his stories.
De Maupassant Writing Career
From 1870-71, Guy de Maupassant served in the French Army. He then became a government clerk.
He moved from Normandy to Paris after the war, and after leaving his clerkship in the French Navy he worked for several prominent French newspapers. In 1880, Flaubert published one of his most famous short stories "Boule du Suif," about a prostitute pressured to provide her services to a Prussian officer.
Perhaps his best-known work, "The Necklace," tells the story of Mathilde, a working-class girl who borrows a necklace from a wealthy friend when she attends a high society party. Mathilde loses the necklace and works the rest of her life to pay for it, only discovering years later that it was a worthless piece of costume jewelry. Her sacrifices had been for nothing.
This theme of a working-class person unsuccessfully trying to rise above their station was common in de Maupassant's stories.
Even though his writing career spanned barely a decade, Flaubert was prolific, writing some 300 short stories, three plays, six novels, and hundreds of newspaper articles. The commercial success of his writing made Flaubert famous and independently wealthy.
De Maupassant Mental Illness
At some point in his 20s, de Maupassant contracted syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that, if left untreated, leads to mental impairment. This is unfortunately what happened to de Maupassant. By 1890, the disease had started to cause increasingly strange behavior.
Some critics have charted his developing mental illness through the subject matter of his stories. But de Maupassant's horror fiction is only a small portion of his work, some 39 stories or so. But even these works had significance; Stephen King's famous novel "The Shining" has been compared to Maupassant's "The Inn."
After a gruesome suicide attempt in 1891 (he tried to cut his throat), de Maupassant spent the last 18 months of his life in a Paris mental home, the celebrated private asylum of Dr. Espirit Blanche. The suicide attempt was believed to be a result of his impaired mental state.
Maupassant is often described as the father of the modern short story-a literary form that's more condensed and immediate than the novel. His work was admired by his contemporaries and imitated by those who came after him. Some of the best-known authors for whom Maupassant was an inspiration include W. Somerset Maugham, O. Henry, and Henry James.
- Dumesnil, René, and Martin Turnell. “Guy De Maupassant.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 1 Aug. 2018.
- “Guy De Maupassant.” Short Stories and Classic Literature.
- "Guy De Maupassant.” Guy De Maupassant - New World Encyclopedia.