If Guy de Maupassant lived and wrote stories or novels today, his name would appear on The New York Times best-seller lists many weeks out of a year.
As it was, in the late 1800s, his stories were best-sellers from the time the first one, “Boule de Suif,” appeared in a collection with five other previously unknown authors, until he died, mentally ill, at the young age of 42 in 1893.
But don’t let the best-seller title sway you from reading Maupassant. I tend to avoid modern-day best-sellers because, in my mind, they are (stereotypically) not written very well. But that’s not the case with Guy de Maupassant’s stories: he writes incredibly well.
Since I recently read Chekhov’s stories, I can’t help but compare the two writers. Apparently, most people compare them. In the introduction to the volume I’m reading, Dr. Artine Artinian discusses at length why Maupassant is better than Chekhov. I don’t think I can assign one as better than the other; they are just very different.
Maupassant’s writing style is a stark contrast to Chekhov’s (read my discussion of Chekhov’s stories here). I loved Chekhov’s writing and style: it was thoughtful despite being (I suppose you could say) verbose. He explores the characters’ emotional states and their thoughts. Maupassant is much more concise. He also relies on dialog more than Chekhov seemed to, so his stories moved more quickly. But Maupassant’s stories are still beautifully written. He captures the essence of the setting in few words and makes it complete.
Maupassant’s subject matter is also a stark contrast to Chekhov. Both writers focus on the lives of everyday people, focusing on everyday matters. But while Chekhov wrote his stories with the ever-present political situation of various classes of people (money and station seemed to be a theme), Maupassant wrote with under-lying carnal desires in mind. In other words, he wrote about sex, greed, love, misunderstandings, and lying, among other things. The characters in his stories care most about themselves. Chekhov’s stories were more concerned with how people relate with each other. In a sense, Chekhov’s characters felt more sensitive. Maupassant’s characters are more “human.”
In searching for a recommended translation, I stumbled upon an Amazon reviewer who wasn’t too impressed with Maupassant. He/she says:
The real reason that everyone makes such a big deal about Maupassant is because he mostly wrote about sex. His stories are entertaining but not extraordinary…
He’s right, and he’s wrong. Yes, Maupassant mostly wrote about sex. But I believe that Maupassant’s writing has a hint of extraordinary. Some stories are simply masterpieces. I believe Maupassant deserves the credit he received.
As I said, I haven’t read every story in this collection of stories by Maupassant. But when I read stories like these I am glad that I don’t have a rating system on my blog. How could I assign a “score” to these painfully beautiful stories after I assigned a “score” to Chekhov’s painfully beautiful stories? I am glad I read both authors, but I can’t begin to “grade” them.
If there is one author I’d read again someday, it would probably be Chekhov and not Maupassant. But that doesn’t mean that Maupassant isn’t as good or that I find his stories “worse.” Also, don’t judge a book by it’s cover: I’m liking Maupassant despite its stench.
In the end, Maupassant’s stories feel modern in writing style and subject matter. Therefore, you (personally) may relate to them more than you would to the under-lying politics in Chekhov’s peasant Russia. I guess you could say that Maupassant is the average “Guy.” That helped him become the best-seller he deservedly was.
Questions for you:
- Which writing style do you prefer to read: verbose beauty or concise beauty?
- If you’ve read Maupassant’s stories, do you think they’re “all about sex” or is there something else deeper in them?
- Do you assign “scores” or ratings to books or stories you read? Why do you assign ratings? How do you determine which rating to assign?