Contes de la bécasse

Guy de Maupassant

L’Aventurine, Paris 2002

This selection of short stories is woven into the well established framework of the provincial. Maupassant captures all at once the feeling of melancholy and ephemeral darkness which surrounds country life. From the dangers posed by an exposure to not only the natural elements but also to the threat of an oncoming enemy, in this case the Prussian army. Life outside the major cities is often isolated and even ignorant, but for that there is a much greater solidarity amongst the people. And that is what the Contes de la bécasse is really about; people and their characters. There is a great deal of detail placed on the significance of conversation and the importance of a shared language which is more village specific than national as in Saint-Antoine. However, amongst all of the banality of life which Maupassant does such a great job in illustrating; with the petty concerns of money, health and familial responsibility, there is a veneer of the philosophical. Every day situations come to reveal the profundity of the human spirit, as in how to remain true to your own identity in the face of oncoming danger and submission, what is it that can drive someone to a madness which would cause them to relinquish their own instinct for survival, and just the many instances of self-awareness which come with a life lived in the throes of nature and its impressive force. Additionally, since this is of course Maupassant, there is that enviable irony and satire by which is represents even the most complex of moral situations as in Un fils and Ce cochon de Morin. Nothing is sacred and yet there is much poignancy to be found throughout even the most socially scathing of his works. Maupassant presents the world as it really is, in its inimitable pathos.

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