French subscription literature
4. Boule de Suif
Reasons to study the novel
The collection has enormous resonance as France suffered occupation again on three occasions, from 1914-1918 and from 1940-1944/5 so this the first is an interesting precursor to the better known ones. Maupassant's metaphorical style is second to none and his ability to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the ruling classes strikes own as much today as it did in the 1870's.
The interest of the novel
With wars constantly being in the headlines it is fascinating to read accounts of how people coped during previous conflicts; in the case of this collection, the nature of occupation by a hated foreign power. The invasion of France by the Prussian army did not last long but it left a lasting impression on the psyche of the country; Maupassant, renowned for his tales of suspense and surprise endings, turned his hand to the patriotic short story, creating a number of unforgettable characters.
In the main story, the eponymous Boule de suif, a lady of easy virtue characterizes the attitude found in the heroes of each story; a woman who goes about her job in a professional way albeit looked down by her fellow travellers refuses to sleep with a German officer. Her fellow travellers, initially supportive, soon tire of being holed up in an hotel and subtly put pressure on her so they can continue their journey. The writer uses the story as a pretext to attack the credentials of a number of political foes as he demonstrates the purity of Boule de suif's innocent patriotism.
The accompanying short stories do not have the same depth but all decry the way in which the invader is prepared to take advantage of the subject people.