‘Mother Savage’ by Guy de Maupassant

Mother Savage by Guy de Maupassant, 1884

The magic trick:

Realistic smallness combined with a giant plot swing that feels larger than life

We have a Guy de Maupassant weekend double for you.

“Mother Savage,” as so many Guy de Maupassant stories do, manages to capture a very small, personal, recognizable reality. This can have the effect of making the story not seem like a story at all, but rather a piece of journalism or some kind of reasonable facsimile of our world.

But then with little warning, the story also gives us a giant plot swing; the kind of dramatic action that would make national news and be told and retold for decades were it applied to that aforementioned recognizable reality.

In that way, he really is the perfect combination of modern small storytelling and 19th century fable and myth.

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

The selection:

When war was declared the son Sauvage, who was then thirty-three years old, enlisted, leaving his mother alone in the house. People did not pity the old woman very much because she had money; they knew it.

She remained entirely alone in that isolated dwelling, so far from the village, on the edge of the wood. She was not afraid, however, being of the same strain as the men folk–a hardy old woman, tall and thin, who seldom laughed and with whom one never jested. The women of the fields laugh but little in any case, that is men’s business. But they themselves have sad and narrowed hearts, leading a melancholy, gloomy life. The peasants imbibe a little noisy merriment at the tavern, but their helpmates always have grave, stern countenances. The muscles of their faces have never learned the motions of laughter.


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