More than a half century has passed since the death of Guy de Maupassant. In that time his writings, and chiefly the short stories, have manifested one of the rarest of all phenomena in letters: they have been self-renewing in vitality and have assumed fresh force and meaning for succeeding generations of readers with changing standards. This is no miraculous regeneration; their vitality resides permanently in the stories themselves. They project the fertility and life-avidity of Maupassant himself during the ten years of his greatest fecundity.
The over-virile and assertively athletic Maupassant imbued his stories with his own surcharged potency and gave them a birthright of independence and a fate of their own. To many good doctors of letters this life-giving force creates a double misconception: they can find neither biological nor literary precedent for such continuing vigor. Historians who rely upon the conveniences of categories, they have merely overlooked the lustiness of the man himself in order to classify the body of his works. They have tried to file the total of his writings neatly under the heading of "Naturalist" and are confounded because almost all his stories persist in eluding the restrictions of a school and burst forth into the unrestrained world of their own existence. These variegated tales, with the throng of human beings who live in them, belong to no classifiable school. They are the progeny of the man who gave them life and their own irrevocable character. Maupassant himself declared in an early manifesto: "We have but one objective: Man and Life, which must be interpreted artistically."
How well he fulfilled this youthful intention is attested by the prodigious total of his definitive works: six novels, more than three hundred short stories and sketches, three books of travel, a volume of poetry, all achieved within one decade of frenzied application.
At the time of the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870, Maupassant was twenty years old. His childhood and early youth were dominated by his mother, a determined woman who had divorced her gay-blade of a husband and devoted herself and the considerable settlement she received to the upbringing of her two sons, Henri René Albert Guy and the younger Hervé.
Until he was thirteen, Guy attended school at Étretat, and then was transferred to Yvetot, where he incurred the wrath of his teachers for his anti-religious and amorous pronouncements in verse. These peccadilloes brought only a succession of rebukes, but for appropriating, and drinking, the choice wines reserved for the faculty, he was summarily expelled. The Rouen Lycée offered refuge for the erring young Norman and shared the responsibility for his education with the kind of correspondence-school instruction provided in the letters of Gustave Flaubert . . .