A Life: The Humble Truth

A Life: The Humble Truth

A Life: The Humble Truth

A Life: The Humble Truth

Synopsis

`every heart imagines itself the first to thrill to a myriad sensations which once stirred the hearts of the earliest creatures and which will again stir the hearts of the last men and women to walk the earth' What is a life? How shall a storyteller conceive a life? What if art means pattern and life has none? How, then, can any story be true to life? These are some of the questions which inform the first of Maupassant's six novels, A Life (Une Vie) (1883) in which he sought to parody and expose the folly of romantic illusion. An unflinching presentation of a woman's life of failure and disappointments, where fulfilment and happiness might have been expected, A Life recounts Jeanne de Lamare's gradual lapse into a state of disillusion. With its intricate network of parallels and oppositions, A Life reflects the influence of Flaubert in its attention to form and its coherent structure. It also expresses Maupassant's characteristic naturalistic vision in which the satire of bourgeois manners, the representation of the aristocracy in pathological decline, the undermining of human individuality and ideals, and the study of deterioration and disintegration, all play a role. But above all Maupassant brings to his first novel the short story writer's genius for a focused tension between stasis and change, and A Life is one of his most compelling portraits of dispossession and powerlessness.

Excerpt

A work of art is superior only if it is at once a symbol and the accurate expression of a particular reality.

(Maupassant, La Vie errante)

Readers who do not wish to learn details of the plot will prefer to treat the Introduction as an Epilogue.

Guy de Maupassant and A Life

What is a life? A biological blip or a subtle construct of will and circumstance? A measured progress through time and space, from the spasm of departure to a mortal terminus, or an eddy in the swirling current of eternity? And how shall a storyteller conceive a life? As a causal chain in which the child is truly father to the man, or as some contingent and promiscuous sequence of accident and ephemeral impulse? As a plotted adventure of exploit, place, and character, or a grey tedium punctuated by non-events and peopled with faceless non-entities? What if art means pattern and life has none? How, then, can any story be true to life? These are some of the questions which inform A Life (1883), the first of Guy de Maupassant's six novels.

His own life did not lack for event or entity. Born in Normandy in 1850, he was the elder son of Gustave de Maupassant, a man of some means but little resolve, who squandered the means and lavished such determination as he possessed upon the pursuit of women. Guy's mother, Laure Le Poittevin, a cultivated but febrile woman, had been a friend since childhood of Gustave Flaubert (1821-80), author of Madame Bovary (1857) and later the literary mentor and 'departed friend' to whose memory A Life is dedicated. Maupassant's parents separated formally in 1863 (divorce, briefly legalized between 1792 and 1816, did not become lawful again in France until 1884), and the young Guy went to . . .

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