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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Guy de Mauspassant and a Shakespearean idea about love

It's by no means a great novel, but Guy de Maupassant's Alien Hearts is yet another under-the-radar piece of serious fiction rescued from oblivion by the great NYRB publishing house (Richard Howard, translation - very readable, too). We're standing in this novel on what at first seems very familiar ground: another Parisian drawing room, another society dame's salon, frequented by artists and musicians, home to private recitals, strictly by invitation only ... does it remind you of Proust? James? But there's more to this than just a social satire; it's actually a profound psychological novel: the host of the salon, Mme de Brune (?) is a 20-something beauty who married young to a nasty brute of a man who abused her in every way, including sexually, and whom she was glad to be rid of when he died of an aneurysm. Now she's set out to wreak revenge by being mean and hurtful to all men. She attracts many admirers to her salon and she flirts with them serially, so that each man at one time or another thinks he's the one she loves - then she dashes their hopes while leaving them on a string. A newcomer to her salon is the male protagonist, Marillot (?), a wealthy dilettante who feels that his life has amounted to nothing - he has many talents, none developed. This time, despite her initial protestations, Mme falls in love w/ him, and he sets up a little love nest in some working-class neighborhood where they begin to meet in secret. And then, the inevitable - a new man shows up on the scene, a dashing Austrian aristocrat, and M. finds himself out in the cold. So we see a lot of conflicting forces and drives going on here: the idea that one can only love what's unavailable, that the chase is more important than the consummation, that we sometimes desire only what others desire - a very Shakespearean idea, by the way (see esp Midsummer Night's Dream).

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