Wednesday, 2 March 2011

What makes them Modern? Guy de Maupassant: The Best Short Stories

I was delighted when a book of short stories was the month's choice for my local reading group. For a while now I've been reviewing books for The Short Review Website and this seemed an ideal candidate.

'one of the fathers of the modern short story and one of the form's finest exponents' says Wikipedia, but I'm not sure what makes a short story modern.

Is it length? Many of these are quite long by today's standards, enough for the protagonists to take journeys through the countryside by horse-drawn carriages, to refresh themselves at country inns and maybe fall in love. Many, if not most, too, have a distinct moral messages, where more recent examples tend to ambiguity. The characters are individuals rather than types, sometimes said to mark a change from traditional tales. Sometimes, though, the line between portraying a bullying military type and a believable person doing his duty is not clearly drawn.

Perhaps it's the existential pessimism of the stories that mark them as modern. The cruel tricks of fate and the futility of human efforts to avoid them is a dominant theme. A modern outlook discards the certainties of faith and a confidence that virtue will be rewarded. In 1880 that was a shocking realisation that marked out Maupassant for criticism. In 1893, after a very troubled life, he committed suicide in a mental asylum.

My review appears in the March 2011 Short Review website.