A Parisian Affair and Other Stories
By Guy de Maupassant
Review by James (French)
When I started to study French in sixth form, and my course specified that we had to study literature, I was a bit anxious about what kinds of things they would be asking us to read. I think I had a lot of preconceptions generally about French literature – that it was all really difficult and abstract, and that I’d never understand what the authors were talking about because I had very little historical knowledge about France and didn’t know very much about philosophy.
My teacher told me not to worry though, and to start with, we studied some short stories by Maupassant, which, she said, would be a good way to start getting to grips with French literature. I gave them a try.
I finished the book about a week later with a completely new outlook on short fiction. Before reading his short stories I hadn’t read much short fiction, but not only are they helpful in terms of language (if you can read them in French), because they’re a lot shorter than other kinds of fiction, but in terms of ideas as well. They all contain really convincing narratives – sometimes funny, often very dark and sad, but always ironic and often witty. The main thing is, though, that it proved to me that really great literature can be accessible and very readable, as well as being very subtle. There’s nothing to be afraid of in terms of not understanding anything, and all of the stories (because they’re short) are very concise.
Boule de Suif, the central short work of this collection, is possibly the most famous of his stories, and is set during the Franco-Prussian war. If you don’t know all that much about French history (as I didn’t), then reading fiction is a really good way of getting into it – and when blanks need filling in, just do a quick reading session on Google. It is a story about resistance and cowardice, and class barriers. It is really fascinating and claustrophobic, and more than that – it taught me a lot about literary endings. Sometimes, the fact that matters are left unresolved makes for a far more satisfying and hard-hitting conclusion, which is something I hadn’t really thought of before.
Even more importantly, it will lead you onto loads of other works, and the variety of stuff to read is enormous. Maupassant, as well as being a great writer, is a really good starting point for anyone interested in getting to grips with classic French literature, and shouldn’t be passed by.
A Parisian Affair and Other Stories by Guy de Maupassant