One of my favorite French writers, Guy de Maupassant, was born on August 5, 1850. His particular specialty was the short story, of which he wrote about 300, although he did also write some novels, travel books, and a book of poetry. I’ve always loved “La Parure” or “The Necklace.” One of the labels often applied to him is “The Father of the Short Story.”
De Maupassant was from an affluent family, born in the château de Miromesnil. When he was 11, his mother took an extraordinary step for the times and separated from her husband. What was perhaps even more extraordinary was that she kept custody of both Guy and his younger brother. She educated him at home and immersed him in literature, particularly Shakespeare. When De Maupassant was 13, he became a boarding school student near Rouen.
The Franco-Prussian War coincided with his graduation and he enlisted. After the war, de Maupassant got an administrative position with the Navy and lived in Paris. He had met Gustave Flaubert as a teen and the writer took him under his wing. Flaubert guided his literary career and and introduced him to other members of the writing community, such as Émile Zola. He began to write for magazines and newspapers in his spare time. “Boule de Suif” was his first critical success. De Maupassant had a tremendous work ethic and grew rich from his writing. He traveled extensively and his experiences fed his writing. He bought a yacht that he named Bel-Ami after his first novel.
De Maupassant was not without his quirks and problems. He loathed the Eiffel Tower and was one of the luminaries who added his name to a letter to the Minister of Public Works opposing its construction. He often ate at the tower at its base so that he could avoid seeing it. The syphilis that de Maupassant had contracted as a young man began to affect his mind. He became paranoid and suicidal. He was committed to an asylum, where he died six months later on July 6, 1893. The great writer wrote his own epitaph – perhaps the saddest that I have ever read – “J’ai tout convoité, et je n’ai joui de rien” (zjay too kon-vwah-tay, ay zjuh nay zjooee duh reN), which means “I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing.”