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Guy de Maupassant - Biography

Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)
Commentary by Karen Bernardo

The French writer Guy de Maupassant grew up in a home dominated by his artistic and ambitious mother; the father dropped into the background early on, and played only a miniscule role in the young boy's development.
Fortunately, de Maupassant -- while still young -- came under the influence of the older writer Flaubert, who encouraged his protegee's literary aspirations. Guy seems to have regarded Flaubert as a much preferable father to his own, and no wonder; Gustave de Maupassant was neither a good father nor a good husband, and doesn't seem to have been much of a man. Gustave's weak, spoiled, and hedonistic ways were in many ways shared by Guy himself; yet his writings testify to his lifelong belief that men were scum, women saints, and if a woman cheated on her man it was only because he was weak and worthless and unable to give her the love and support a woman needs. This clearly was a reflection of the situation he saw at home as he grew up.

Lest one assume that de Maupassant was some sort of proto-feminist, let us put that idea to rest. De Maupassant loved women passionately, but his interest in them was scarcely idealistic. He enjoyed visiting brothels, and his easy familiarity with prostitutes is reflected in stories such as "Boule de Suif" -- "Ball of Fat," a quasi-endearing nickname for a voluptuous whore. He recognized how people can be brought down by vanity, a situation depicted in his famous story 'The Necklace.' And he was fascinated with humanity's darker side, as we learn from his masterful character study of an effeminate military officer in "Mademoiselle Fifi." His lifestyle, however, was to prove de Maupassant's undoing; he died insane -- and far too young -- from complications brought on by syphilis.
The stories of Guy de Maupassant reflect the interior obsessions of the author -- obsessions which underscore his best work: the baseness of men; the superiority of women; and the nobility of prostitutes and the poor. The fact that he uses and reuses these same three themes, in story after story after story, indicates that there were many unconscious elements at work in the construction of his fiction -- and most of these had to do with his relationship to his parents. De Maupassant could never get over his father's rejection and his mother's obsession with her child.

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