A Wry Take on Human Nature

This is my review of Boule de suif (Le Livre de Poche) by Guy de Maupassant.

Considering this was written about a century and a half ago, Maupassant's collection of tales inspired by the Franco-Prussian War is remarkably fresh and vivid. It starts with his most famous "masterpiece" named after the "round as a dumpling" character of "Boule de Suif", the kindhearted prostitute who is so exploited and humiliated by the hypocritical bunch of characters who share a coach with her to escape the conquering Prussian army.

Writing with deceptive simplicity, great clarity and wit, Maupassant captures the sensations of travelling on a coach through the deep snow and winter dark, the periodic hunger and discomfort en route, the initially welcome shelter of the inn, the fear of encountering enemy soldiers. The nine ostensibly highly respectable passengers are given clearly distinct personalities and different social positions , displaying the all too common less attractive aspects of human nature: greed, prejudice, insensitivity, self-interest, and desire to justify their actions. Perhaps they are stereotypes but this makes for an absorbing read in which the author plays cleverly on one's sense of outrage, empathy with "Boule de Suif", despite her unsavoury profession, and wish to see her tormentors pay. Yet would we have behaved any better?

In addition to a detailed introduction, the stories are very thoroughly annotated. I found very useful the explanations of various classical references, the relevant details of the Franco-Prussian War plus some other snippets of information – such as "un pipe en écume" being a meerschaum pipe with a bowl carved out of a substance resembling hardened foam.

If English is your native tongue, there are translations available on Google – oddly enough with some of the mildly risqué passages omitted, I'm not sure why.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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