Archive for Maupassant

do novel writers need to make exceptional beings of their characters?

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2013 by xi'an

In the French literature part of the baccalauréat exam my daughter (and 170,000 other French students) took on Tuesday, the essay was about the above. It was quite a congenial theme and she seems to have enjoyed the opportunity to review her favourite books to argue the point. (She however declined to write a shorter version for the ‘Og, even in French..!) I wish I had time to expand on this, as it is a fairly rich field for arguing both ways, from Rabelais’ Gargantua and Dumas’ D’Artagnan to Melville’s Bartelby and Raymond Carver‘s characters (who often even remain unnamed). Opposing Flaubert’s Emma Bovary and Maupassant’s Jeanne for instance. Although my daughter considered Emma was in the “ordinary” camp… And discussing the characters in The Grapes of Wrath since this was one of the included texts. In my conclusion, despite advices not to answer the question in a definitive manner, I would however lean towards the quantum physics analogy that writers impact on the exceptional nature of their characters, since they become exceptional if only by appearing in the novel… (Check a mediocre online correction.)

More of my favourite books

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2009 by xi'an

books4In continuation of the previous post, here are the other books on the pile, which—by a coincidence due to the way books are ordered on my bookshelves—are predominantly 19th century French novels:

  • Maupassant’s Bel Ami, for his precursor style in psychological novels that somehow prefigures Joyce—although many may prefer Joyce!—as well as the narrative power of his short stories—that involves Norman peasants as well as Parisian courtisanes—, and for his description of the Belle Epoque;
  • Mérimée’s Chroniques du Règne de Charles IX, which is a Romantic [genre] novel, both for its historical aspects (Saint Bathelemy’s massacre) and its tale of tolerance versus fanaticism. Although I could have instead put Dumas’ La Dame de Monsoreau in the list, since it describes the same period and I like it very much, I think Mérimée goes further and deeper;
  • Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme, maybe the Romantic novel. It was certainly my preferred book as a teenager and I still enjoy very much this description of (post-)Napoleonic Italy and the intricate love triangles that multiply throughout the novel;
  • Kawabata’s House of the Sleeping Beauties, because of its poignant and dark beauty and of its minimalist style;
  • Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, another strong psychological portrait at the turn of the (xxth) century, full of Wilde’s witicisms, with a touch of gothic fantasy;
  • Dickens’ Dombey and Son, as, for all his defaults, Dickens remains one of my favourite authors. Actually, I could not find [on my shelves] David Copperfield, a book I read almost every year from a very early age and which remains my top novel from Dickens (if only for Mr Micawber!), but Dombey and Son has an additional darkness that makes it a major novel as well;
  • Borgés’ Fictions, unclassifiable and sublime existentialist tales of the absurd that have so much appeal for mathematicians;
  • Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Une vieille maîtresse. While considered a minor 19th century writer, I really enjoy this author his nostalgic description of the upper Norman peninsula and of a provincial nobility erased by the French revolution.