Parisian green spaces in the work of Guy de Maupassant from 1880-1886

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France in the nineteenth century was a chaotic period of social, cultural, and political revolution. Yet out of this tumultuous climate arose numerous symbols and images associated with modern France, not the least of which is Paris, one of the most celebrated cities in the world. Paris has lived at the center of literary works throughout time, but it is in the nineteenth century that French authors begin to sketch the capital city in stark contrast to the countryside. Some, such as Stendhal, focused on Paris as the locus for success, but also of corruption, in contrast to the countryside, which came to represent family, origins, tradition, but also stagnancy. Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) positioned himself on this literary continuum by characterizing Paris as a modern metropolis not against the countryside, but rather, aware of itself as an urban setting that required natural green spaces for its very integrity. While Maupassant certainly delivered depictions of corruption in Paris, his representation of the city was more complex and served to drive character and plot development in the narrative. His characters often ventured into Parisian green spaces, and by circulating in and out of their urban settings, Maupassant allowed them to grow both as individuals and in partnerships with others. It is my aim to illustrate the narrative function and socio-cultural necessity of Parisian green spaces in selected works by Maupassant, from the short stories “Les Dimanches d’un bourgeois de Paris”, “Menuet”, “Deux amis”, and “Mademoiselle Perle”, to the novel, Bel-Ami. Although these works and, indeed, Maupassant, have never before been considered as early examples of what we now call nature writing, they can arguably be considered as relevant precursors to this movement in more contemporary French literature. Ultimately, these works show that Maupassant broke with the traditional image of Paris contre province and offered us instead a Paris qui a besoin de la province.

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French literature, Literature