August 5

This Day in History

Literary

Aug 5, 1850:

Guy de Maupassant's birthday

French writer Guy de Maupassant, one of France's best short-story writers, is born on this day near Dieppe, France.

Maupassant began studying law in 1869 but interrupted his studies to volunteer for the army during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1871, following the war, he went to Paris. Gustave Flaubert, a good friend of Maupassant's mother, agreed to keep an eye on the young man, who was running wild in Paris. When Maupassant showed an interest in writing, Flaubert became his mentor, introducing him to the most prominent writers of the time, including Emile Zola and Henry James.

In 1880, Zola edited a collection of six short stories about war. He selected an exceptional story by Maupassant called "Boule de Suif" ("Ball of Fat"), which distinguished the young writer immediately. Maupassant produced some 300 short stories, six novels, and several nonfiction books in 10 years. He drew on his own experiences in the army, and later the civil service, to write vivid, detailed stories about the military and bureaucracy, as well as class injustices, in a distinctly Naturalist style that influenced Zola's own writing. Maupassant's major works include A Life (1883), The Rondoli Sisters (1884), and Le Horla (1887).

Maupassant contracted syphilis in his 20s, and the disease resulted in hallucinations, suicidal impulses, and insanity in his 40s. He died in an insane asylum in 1893.

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