Friday, August 26, 2011

#26: The Horla, Guy De Maupassant

The Horla
by Guy De Maupassant
-born in France, 1850
-74 Pages
-more about Maupassant (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- After serving in the Franco-Prussian War, Guy De Maupassant studied writing with his mother's friend Gustav Flaubert (perhaps believing rumors, which persist, that Flaubert was his father).
- In 1880 he published his first story, "Boule De Suif" which was hailed as a masterpiece.
- He published more than 300 stories and 6 novels.
- In the late 1880s he began to show signs of syphilitic mental illness, and in 1891 was institutionalized after a suicide attempt.  He died in a mental asylum in 1893.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
This chilling tale of one man’s descent into madness was published shortly before the author was institutionalized for insanity, and so, The Horla has inevitably been seen as informed by Guy de Maupassant’s mental illness. While such speculation is murky, it is clear that de Maupassant—hailed alongside Chekhov as father of the short story—was at the peak of his powers in this innovative precursor of first-person psychological fiction. Indeed, he worked for years on The Horla's themes and form, first drafting it as “Letter from a Madman,” then telling it from a doctor’s point of view, before finally releasing the terrified protagonist to speak for himself in its devastating final version. In a brilliant new translation, all three versions appear here as a single volume for the first time.

My Impressions:
Even more fun than discovering manners and customs of bygone eras (possibly because it is rarer to find) is stumbling upon the superstitions and scientific studies.  It is like the coveted behind-the-scenes look into something otherwise romanticized or villanized.  It's always fun to see that people have been pondering ghosts and aliens for quite some time:
"If other beings besides us exist on Earth, why didn't we meet them a long time ago?"
We might reason that, ever since man began to think, he has had a premonition and a dread of some new being, stronger than her, his successor in this world, and that, feeling him nearby, yet being unable to foresee the nature of this master, he has created in his terror the entire fantastic population of occult beings, vague phantoms born from fear.
What is special about this volume is that it actually contains three different versions of the same story.  What an unexpected gold mine that was for me!  I love the creative process in all its stages--the way an idea or feeling can end up in such different places all depending on a few simple decisions--so reading the same story composed in three different ways was just the thing for me.  They really were rather different and I found it very enjoyable to compare.  The writing was at times beautiful and at times [perhaps unintentionally] funny (examples below) and I flew through the book with a smile on my face.
We are so infirm, so helpless, so ignorant, so small, we others, on this spinning grain of mud mixed with a drop of water.
Why should it be surprising if our eye cannot see a new body, one that evidently lacks the property of blocking light rays?  Can you see electricity?  And yet it exists!

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