My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Attempts to describe ordinary life without an empathetic heart and sympathetic ear are often led to cliched political or social screeds marred by a partisan ideology that fails to chime the bells of the hearts of universal readers across a great divide of territorial, cultural, and biological planes that we want to cross over. In this regard, Guy de Maupassant, a great 19th Century French writer stands alone, showing us what life means to ordinary folk at the heart of its vicissitudes with an honest, profound observation of the performers of acts as an usher to the theatre of human drama.
The short stories are vignettes of collective contemporary lives of ordinary French folk from the middle class Parisian civil servants to the Normandy peasants that are all connected in one way or another in the wheel of fortune spun on the whims and caprice of Lady Fortune. Titles and ranks lose their forces in this game of cruel lottery, and the characters are fallen apart from their most cherished yearnings, treasured wishes, deluded hopes, and forced beliefs. Humanity, in general, lays bare its essence in the face of tragedy, and it is this aspect of human nature that Maupassant laments and pities as a detached observer of each act of the drama. “Two Friends” shows how life can be altered by the current political affairs of the time, while “Monsieur Parent” portrays a man consumed by solipsistic passions kept in a voluntary estrangement. The hypocrisy of religious sanctimoniousness aided by the idiosyncratic custom in the guise of regional tradition in “The Christening” is accused of a crime against humanity. The bullying of meekness and joviality in “Toine” manifests Shakespeare’s adage that the unkindest beast is kinder than mankind. And there is the awakening of greed and sloth in “The False Gems” as Lady Fortune beckons with a fortuitous lure that even you will be tempted into. The panoply of emotions, varied incidents, and inner conflicts are blatantly displayed in their revelation but are nuanced in their language.
Maupassant is a genius in this regard that he elevates the perspective on the seemingly ordinary outlook on life into the intricate psychology of the human mind with the feeling of the sublime as though seen from the position of a god or an angel not permitted to interfere with mortal life. Through the characters, Maupassant shows us what makes them behave the way they do lest we should criticize their follies and foibles a priori. He is in a way a pre-existentialist by which the experience of their characters precedes their existence. That is, if you know them, you will understand them. Maupassant through the literary looking glassed-selves of the characters tells us to read their own stories breathed in a pulsation of unfulfilled longings, disallowed happiness, and shattered dreams to find sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility toward them.
This book is not for a rapid reading at one sitting. Rather you should read this anthology of short stories chapters by chapters, words by words, day after day like you are reading psalms that speak to your heart amid the vicissitudes of life that try your trust in yourself and others. For that’s what Maupassant wants you to as life is seldom fathomable to ascertain how far it will have to be lived and how much it can be appreciated based upon your own appreciation of the meaning of life in daily life.