India Uncut

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

VS Naipaul on Guy de Maupassant

Quizman points me to a fun interview of the irrepressible VS Naipaul, who joyously takes potshots at Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy and Charlie 'Chuck' Dickens and all Indian writers, some of it quite correctly, and some most unfairly, with a little projection. But he does have words of praise too, especially for the French writer, Guy de Maupassant, one of my favourites as a child. Naipaul says:
[W]hen I began to read Maupassant I was too ignorant to appreciate him fully. Some wisdom is needed, some experience is needed before you see a culture and you see the writers more clearly. If you were talking to me twenty-five years ago I would have said Balzac was the greatest French writer. Now I say Maupassant - a very great man...

I came across the Maupassant stories, all the stories - 1,100 pages. They were in chronological order and quite well translated. It was an education. In the beginning he writes very carefully, not wishing to put a foot wrong. In the middle he is more secure. He does things instinctively and well, and then, near the end of his life, his thoughts are about death, and the pieces get shorter and they are very, very affecting.

There is a character in a Chekhov play who talks about Maupassant and says his talent is almost supernatural, and I have to agree with that, because in nearly every story there is a complete life that is being displayed. And there are so many stories. You wonder where he got the material and it seems so natural and easy. When you read, you can analyse it and see his method. It's very precise geographically and he always gives people a name - very important. There is a line of emotion in his writing, which varies as he writes so you follow the emotion of the writer rather than the banality of how the narrative is going to end. There's no one like him, I think.

There is the brutality of his short life. He began writing when he was thirty, and then in ten years it was almost all over. He was in pain, then mad, so everything he did was done in ten years. He must have worked all the time and yet with a kind of ease. It is a supernatural talent. [The paragraphing is mine.]
Maupassant's most famous story, of course, is "The Necklace," but another little masterpiece that was quite a favourite of mine is "The Piece of String." His work is available online here. Do read, much joy resides.
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