‘Mademoiselle Pearl’ by Guy de Maupassant

Mademoiselle Pearl by Guy de Maupassant, 1886

The magic trick:

A melodramatic plot with a heart-wrenching love story at its core

All week we’ve been looking at stories that feature protagonists who overstep their bounds. In theory, they’re trying to help, but they only wind up making things worse. “Mademoiselle Pearl” is probably the most egregious example among this week’s entries. The protagonist here also has the best intentions. But, yeah, not the best results.

In typical Guy de Maupassant form, it’s quite a yarn. We’ve got mystery and romance, family history, surprise twists. It’s great stuff. The key aspect is the love story. It’s amazingly melodramatic, yes. Orphaned baby at the doorstep and a lifetime of secret pining. But don’t act like you’re too good for melodrama. This is a timeless love story. Enjoy it. And that’s quite a trick on Maupassant’s part.

The selection:

I began to observe her. How old could she be? Forty? Yes, forty. She was not old, she made herself old. I was suddenly struck by this fact. She fixed her hair and dressed in a ridiculous manner, and, notwithstanding all that, she was not in the least ridiculous, she had such simple, natural gracefulness, veiled and hidden. Truly, what a strange creature! How was it I had never observed her before? She dressed her hair in a grotesque manner with little old maid curls, most absurd; but beneath this one could see a large, calm brow, cut by two deep lines, two wrinkles of long sadness, then two blue eyes, large and tender, so timid, so bashful, so humble, two beautiful eyes which had kept the expression of naive wonder of a young girl, of youthful sensations, and also of sorrow, which had softened without spoiling them.

Her whole face was refined and discreet, a face the expression of which seemed to have gone out without being used up or faded by the fatigues and great emotions of life.

What a dainty mouth! and such pretty teeth! But one would have thought that she did not dare smile.

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