A Dead Woman’s Secrets by Guy de Maupassant, 1880
The magic trick:
Blending personal drama with social commentary
The title is enough to know you’ve got some made-for-TV drama here ready to roll. Juicy stuff. Two children mourning their dead mother, reading a cache of old letters.
But a familial soap opera wouldn’t survive a century and a half. There needs to be more. And there is. Maupassant slyly sets the mourning scene in the church. He involves a priest. He puts the children’s praises for their mother within the context of religion and sainthood. Suddenly, the juicy family drama becomes something with a lot more bite. And that’s quite a trick on de Maupassant’s part.
“Thanks, Father, but my brother and I would like to be left alone with her. These are the last moments that we now have for seeing her, so we want to feel ourselves once more, the three of us, just as we were years ago when we — we — we were only children and our poor — poor mother — ” She was unable to finish with the flood of tears that gushed from her eyes and the sobs that were choking her.
But the priest bowed with a more serene look on his face, for he was thinking of his bed. “Just as you please, my children.”
Then he kneeled down, again crossed himself, prayed, rose and softly stole away, murmuring as he went: “She was a saint.”
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