Les Dimanches d’un Bourgeois de Paris

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Guy de Maupassant
Les Dimanches d’un Bourgeois de Paris
Librairie Paul Ollendorff, Paris 1919 [1880]

A simple tale of a man searching for health and completing the cycle of work and life in an ordinary fashion with frequent trips to the countryside. Maupassant exhibits his infinite talent for turning irony into meaning, whereby Patissot’s lack of self awareness allows for the expression of  a wonderful third person omniscient perspective:

“Et Patissot, en s’en allant, fut pris d’une immense consideration pour cet homme, non pas tant à cause de ses grands succès, de sa gloire et de son talent, mais parce qu’il mettait tant d’argent pour une fantasie, tandis que les bourgeois ordinaries se privent de toute fantasie pour amasser de l’argent!”

(And Patissot, going upon his way, was seized with an immense sense of esteem for this great man, not so much for his successes, his glory or his talent, but because he was so willing to spend such large amounts of money on a whim, whereas an ordinary bourgeois citizen would sacrifice all whim for the chance to accumulate more money) 

The irony extends to real life when Patissot is asked to visit a famous artist by his journalist cousin and is informed that the best way to deal with artists is to

“…faites seulement des compliments, rien que des compliments, toujours des compliment…”

(… all you need to do is pay them compliments, nothing but compliments, always compliments…)

The irony becomes apparent when in fact the artist in question is Emile Zola, Maupassant’s mentor and friend. When we do reach the scene with Zola, the joke continues, as hinted by their arrival at a tiny house built by the previous owner which now stands in the shadow of Zola’s construction:

“Avant d’entrer, ils examinèrent l’habitation. Une grande construction carrée et neuve, très haute, semblait avoir accouché, comme la montagne de la fable, d’une toute petite maison blanche, blottie à son pied. Cette dernière maison, la demeure primitive, a été bâtie par l’ancien propriétaire. La tour fut édifiée par Zola.”

(Before entering, they analysed the facade. A huge square building, new and very high appeared to have birthed, as the mountain in the fable, a small white house pressed tightly against its feet. This last house, primitive in its design, had been built by the previous owner. The tower was of Zola’s creation.)

The physical character portrait of Zola however, is completely in earnest. We can almost imagine the great Zola standing over an already 30 year old Maupassant lecturing on the limits of style. And with what seems fitting to Maupassant’s world view the giant on top of the hill descends to share in common the universal pride of property:

“Alors le propriétaire s’éveilla dans le coeur indifférent de l’homme de lettres qui, souriant, ouvrit le vitrage pour montrer l’étendue de la perspective.”

(And so the indifferent heart of the great man of letters was awakened, and with a smile he opened the window out on to the extensive views below.) 

These are most certainly the most interesting scenes in the novella, with the rest focusing on the superficialities of contemporary French society and bizarre relationships formed by strangers. However, there is a turn towards the absurd with the case of the disappearing Government:

“Pardon, monsieur, on ne peut pas le voir. J’ai essayé plus de cent fois, moi, monsieur. Je me suis embusqué auprès de l’Elysée : il n’est pas sorti. Un passant m’a affirmé qu’il jouait au billard, au café en face ; j’ai été au café en face : il n’y était pas. On m’avait promis qu’il irait à Melun pour le concours : je me suis rendu à Melun, et je ne l’ai pas vu. Je suis fatigué, à la fin.” 

(Excuse me Sir, but we cannot see him. I myself have tried at least a hundred times, Sir. I petitioned the Elysée: to no avail. Someone in passing informed me that he was playing at billiards in the cafe near by, I went to the cafe nearby, he was not there. They informed me that he would be at Melun for the races, I presented myself at Melun, and I did not see him there. To be honest, I am exhausted.)  

It’s refreshing to read some obvious parody of French institutions that we all so love to hate. Although the there is no real ending, and is rather abrupt in its denouement, the various chapters churn through unlikely characters who are more than keen open up to Patissot:

“C’est vrai, monsieur ; mais, si les prêtres étaient des hommes comme les autres, mes malheurs ne seraient pas arrivés. Je suis ennemi du célibat ecclésiastique, moi, monsieur, et j’ai mes raisons pour ça.”

(It’s true Sir, if priests were men like all others, my misfortune would never have come to pass. I myself am revolted by ecclesiastical celibacy, Sir, and I have my reasons. )

Maupassant is well versed in the fact that a good story is one in which everyone has their own.

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