The Great ‘Read Every Author’ Challenge Cont’d: Maupassant & Chekhov

So, the idea of the ‘Read Every Author’ Challenge is to familiarise myself with every author possible by reading a short piece by them. This time out I read the Guy De Maupassant story, “The Necklace” and the Anton Chekhov story “The Bet”. And I’ve included links to the stories in case anyone wants to read them, ’cause we’re all about YOU here at ‘The Rant’!

Guy De Maupassant is one of the originators of the short story and also of the “twist ending” in the short story.

Guy De Maupassant. Rocking the ‘Stalin’ look.

His story “The Necklace” (Read it here) is one of his most popular, so I figured a good place to start. “The Necklace” tells the story of Madame Mathilde Loisel and her husband Charles. Her husband manages to get them an invitation to a swanky party but his wife complains she has nothing to wear. He buys her a dress but Mathilde is still not happy and says she has no jewels to wear with it. (High maintenance, this lady!) Charles suggests borrowing something from her friend, Madame Forestier. Mathilde borrows the fanciest diamond necklace that she can find but after the party, discovers that she’s lost the necklace. The couple take out loans to buy a diamond necklace that looks just like the one that was lost. It takes them ten years of hard labour to come up with the money at which point they are destitute. And this is where the twist comes in, a twist that – while it might have been impressive in 1884 – is underwhelming, to say the least. Wanna know what it is? If you feel the need to read the story, skip the next paragraph.

*SPOILER ALERT* One day Mathilde sees Madame Forestier and Mathilde confesses about that night and how she worked so hard to return her necklace. Mme. Forestier tells Mathilde that the one she had borrowed was made of paste, not real diamonds, and that it was worth at most 500 francs.

Em. Okay.

The problem with this story for me – apart from the twist – is a similar one I mentioned about the Balzac story in the last post. The writing just seems very dated now. If you like a good old-fashioned tale, then perhaps you’d like De Maupassant. Alas, not for me.

I’d already read the plays The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya by Chekhov but apparently he was also a prolific short story writer, so I figured I’d give him a go.

Chekhov (on the left) on a visit to Santa’s Grotto. Oh wait, no. That’s Tolstoy he’s with.

“The Bet” (Read it here) is a short story about a banker and a young lawyer who make a bet with each other about whether the death penalty is better or worse than life in prison. The banker argues that capital punishment is more humane than life imprisonment, while the young lawyer disagrees, insisting that he would choose life in prison rather than death. They agree to a bet of two million rubles that the lawyer cannot spend fifteen years in solitary confinement. The story also has a twist ending, albeit a much better one than De Maupassant’s.

I liked this story. It has the kind of psychological realism and oblique ending that we have come to expect of modern short stories. It’s also quite dark, which makes it seem very modern. Interestingly, both stories were written in the same decade, which suggests that if the writing has dated it’s down to the writers and not the time periods they were written in.

One of the most impressive stories I’ve read, though, is actually from an author who wasn’t on my list. As I was looking for stories from De Maupassant and Chekhov, I came across a story called, “The Girls in their Summer Dresses”. (Read it here) I’m a huge Springsteen fan and I wondered if this story was the inspiration for his song “Girls in their Summer Clothes”, so I read it. The author, Irwin Shaw, is probably best known for writing the book Rich Man, Poor Man on which the hugely popular ‘70s miniseries was based.

Anyone remember Falconetti?

In the story, a married couple are wandering around Manhattan on a Sunday looking for something to do. It’s the middle of summer and the husband is casting shifty glances at the young girls. The wife admonishes for this and what follows is a masterful depiction of the kinds of unsaid things that go on within relationships.

 

(Images: Click the pics for credits)

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