A New Year’s Gift by Guy de Maupassant
The magic trick:
Playing the characters – and readers – off of their perceived notion of the contemporary social constritcions
Halfway through “A New Year’s Gift,” I thought, OK, this is one of those stories that requires absolute suspension of modern moral expectations. The story’s conflict revolves around 19th-century social constrictions. And that’s fine. Perhaps the story is just a little dated. It is 130 years old, after all.
But Maupassant is just messing with us, poor readers. Using the Irene character as his instrument, the author plays off the expectations of the reader so that the ending provides a neat twist to the plot, as well as a sharp commentary of exactly those aforementioned dated social structures. And that’s quite a trick on Maupassant’s part.
“My dear love, you are going to commit a gross, an irreparable folly. If you want to quit your husband, put wrongs on one side, so that your situation as a woman of the world may be saved.”
She asked, as she cast at him a restless glance:
“Then, what do you advise me?”
“To go back home and to put up with your life there till the day when you can obtain either a separation or a divorce, with the honors of war.”
“Is not this thing which you advise me to do a little cowardly?”
“No; it is wise and reasonable. You have a high position, a reputation to safeguard, friends to preserve, and relations to deal with. You must not lose all these through a mere caprice.”