Pierre and Jean (Bell, 1902)/Life of Guy de Maupassant

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Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant was born in a sixteenth-century house, the Château de Miromesnil, near Dieppe, on the 5th of August, 1850. His father, a stockbroker, claimed descent from the ancient Norman propietors of the castle. Maupassant was educated at Yvetôt and at Rouen, and became a clerk in the Paris Ministry of Marine. He was idle and unsatisfactory as an employé, and in 1870 and 1871 he left his office altogether, serving in the war as a common soldier. He returned, and rose to a high post in the Cabinet de l'Instruction Publique, but his interests now settled around athletic exercises and, more indefinitely, literature. His mother (whose maiden name was Mlle. Laure Lepoitevin) was an intimate friend of Flaubert, who, about 1873, began to notice the powerful elements which lay dormant in the intellect of Guy de Maupassant. But he was disappointed by the early sketches which he induced the young man to compose, and he placed his protegé under a severe discipline in the art of writing. It was not until 1880 that Maupassant was suddenly made famous by two published volumes. The one was a collection of poems, "Des Vers," twenty pieces, most of them of a narrative character, brilliant in execution and audacious in tone. One of these, slightly exceeding its fellows in crudity, was threatened with a prosecution in law as an outrage on manners, and the fortune of the book was secured. The other venture was equally interesting. Maupassant, who had thrown in his lot with the Naturalist Novelists, contributed a short tale, "Boule de Suif" to the volume called "Les Soirées de Médan," to which Zola, Huysmans, Hennique, Céard, and Paul Alexis also affixed their names. He was now fairly started on the stream of public composition, and during the following ten years he issued tale after tale with unflagging industry. In 1881 "La Maison Tellier," in 1883 "Mademoiselle Fifi" and the longer novel of "Une Vie," competed with the entertaining short stories called "Contes de la Bécasse" in riveting public attention to the brilliant young writer. Maupassant travelled, and he recomited his adventures in "Au Soleil" (1884). To this same year of abundance belong three marvellous volumes, named after a principal story in each, "Les Sœurs Rondoli," "Miss Harriet," and "Clair de Lune." "Yvette," a short novel, followed and it noww becomes possible to record only the most important of the vehement author s flood of productions. Among these must certainly be included his five great realistic romances, "Bel-Ami' 1885; "Mont-Oriol," 1887; "Pierre et Jean," 1888; "Fort comme la Mort,"1889; and "Notre Cœur," 1890. In ten years he brought out more than thirty separate volumes. A life of excessive tension, and a reckless waste of energy, however, told upon his constitution. Before 1891 he had begun to fail in nervous strength, and to become subject to odd delusions. He took to life in a yacht on the Mediterranean, but without success. He was ordered to Aix-les-Bains, and then to Cannes, where his insanity asserted itself in a variety of distressing ways. Finally, on the 6th of January, 1892, he attempted to kill himself, and was with difficulty removed to Paris. There, in an asylum, and in a very painful condition, he lingered until the 6th of July, 1893, when he died. Two collections of short stories, "Lé Père Milon," 1898, and "Le Colporteur", 1900, have been published since his death, and a curious correspondence, "Amitié Amoureuse," 1897. Maupassant was a man of powerful physical frame and tempestuous passions, capable of friendship, but not easily amenable to social conventions, and, in the hour of his extreme success, misanthropical, suspicious, and unsympathetic. That he was predestined to mental disease many touches in his work, sane and powerful as it is, have been thought to suggest; and in particular the extraordinary vampire-story, "Le Horla," 1887, which deals entirely with overmastering nervous delusion.

E. G.