‘The Thief’ by Guy de Maupassant

The Thief by Guy de Maupassant, 1882

The magic trick:

Constructing the plot in a way that would seem trite but proves surprisingly affecting

We read Danielle Lazarin’s “Looking For A Thief” yesterday, so of course we cap the weekend today with “The Thief” by Guy de Maupassant.

It’s a very good story, if you’re wondering. Simple, its tidy irony almost verging on silly, but somehow also tragic.

It begins with our storyteller suggesting that a thief could steal nothing worse than a woman’s reputation. So it’s very nearly comedy when the reader finds a few paragraphs later that this metaphorical setup proves literal too. The lothario in question is caught entering his lover’s house at night in what appears to the family to be a literal robbery.

If that seems trite, you’ll be surprised at how effective the triteness proves/

And that’s quite a trick on Maupassant’s part.

The selection:

“It is, of course, difficult and painful for that coarse and unfathomable vanity which is characteristic of every man, and which might be called ‘malism’, not to stir such a charming fire, difficult to act the Joseph and the fool, to turn away his eyes, and, as it were, to put wax into his ears, like the companions of Ulysses when they were attracted by the divine, seductive songs of the Sirens, difficult only to touch that pretty table covered with a perfectly new cloth, at which you are invited to take a seat before any one else, in such a suggestive voice, and are requested to quench your thirst and to taste that new wine, whose fresh and strange flavor you will never forget. But who would hesitate to exercise such self-restraint if, when he rapidly examines his conscience, in one of those instinctive returns to his sober self in which a man thinks clearly and recovers his head, he were to measure the gravity of his fault, consider it, think of its consequences, of the reprisals, of the uneasiness which he would always feel in the future, and which would destroy the repose and happiness of his life?”


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