The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant, 1884 Read the rest of this entry »
Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desire by Michael Tournier, 1983 Read the rest of this entry »
The Hitchhiking Game by Milan Kundera, 1969 Read the rest of this entry »
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.”
Christmas Eve by Guy de Maupassant, 1882
The magic trick:
Combining horror and comedy
I can’t imagine this was the best place for me to start with de Maupassant. I’ve been looking forward to digging into his oeuvre, but this one is a dud. I guess it’s supposed to be a funny bit of holiday horror. A man woos a young woman back to his home for a Christmas Eve dinner, mainly because he likes her plump figure. Oh, but wouldn’t you know, turns out she’s pregnant. Now he has a real problem on his hands. Hmmm. I guess that’s funny? I don’t know. I’m gonna read some more de Maupassant next month and check back in. Hopefully the results are stronger than this.
“At that moment, however, a deep groan made me look round, and I said:
“‘What is the matter with you, my dear?’
“She did not reply, but continued to utter painful sighs, as if she were suffering horribly, and I continued:
“‘Do you feel ill?’ And suddenly she uttered a cry, a heartrending cry, and I rushed up to the bed, with a candle in my hand.
The Other Wife by Colette
The magic trick:
Implying a lifetime in two-and-a-half pages
This is a very short story, yet it doesn’t lack for richness or depth. Colette drops little hints along the way that allow the reader’s imagination to run wild, filling in back stories and jumping to conclusions. The new wife, Alice, shows just enough insecurity, and Marc, the husband, shows just enough dissatisfaction, so that by story’s end the reader isn’t sure to whom the titular other wife refers – Alice or the ex. And that’s quite a trick on Colette’s part.
“She’s just difficult!”
Alice fanned herself irritably, and cast brief glances at the woman in white, who was smoking, her head resting against the back of the cane chair, her eyes closed with an air of satisfied lassitude.
Marc shrugged his shoulders modestly.
“That’s the right word,” he admitted. “What can you do? You have to feel sorry for people who are never satisfied. But we’re satisfied . . . Aren’t we, darling?”