Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Mademoiselle Fifi by Guy de Maupassant

Given the amount of media time being given to the inappropriate, sexual, bullying behaviour of some men towards women in work, social and online areas lately, the story of Mademoiselle Fifi reminds us that the problem is in fact, an age-old one that moved across cultural divides with ease.

Elisabeth Rousset (Simone Simon) and “Fifi” (Kurt Kreuger)
in Robert Wise’s Mademoiselle Fifi (1944)

Mademoiselle Fifi (1882) is a short story by French writer Guy de Maupassant. It's set in the winter of 1870 in Normandy during the Franco-Prussian War. The Prussian officers have taken up residence in a chateau and are slowly defacing and despoiling each room. The Major appears to be a cultured, moderate man, but his Captain is an unpleasant, lecherous, arrogant man. His outward handsomeness disguises the heart of a bully. His effeminate manners cause his comrades to nickname him 'Mademoiselle Fifi'.

He decides that life in the chateau is boring and plans a party to liven things up. He arranges for a group of women (prostitutes) to be procured from the nearby village.

The dinner quickly goes from bad to worse, although not exactly as Mademoiselle Fifi had planned.

De Maupassant regularly explored themes of class and the pointlessness of the war. In this case he used fairly stereotypical characters (both Prussian and French) to contrast the German way against the French way. You can probably guess which character type came off the worse!

The violence of war is clearly shown to not just exist on the battle field. The resistance of the locals and their defence of honour are seen as positive traits, yet still, the unhappy result is that violence always meets with more violence.

I've been enjoying my leisurely read of de Maupassant's stories. By reading one and at time and allowing each one to sit for a while, it has given me time to reflect and keep each one separate. In the past I've read short story collections all at once which has had the unfortunate effect of blurring the individual stories together into one big mass, leaving me with nothing more than a general impression of 'yes, I liked this authors writing' or 'no, I didn't'.

My responses to the first three stories, Boule de Suif (or Dumpling or Ball of Fat), Deux Amis (Two Friends) and La Maison Tellier (Madame Tellier's Establishment) in The Best Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant can be found here.

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