Biography of Guy de Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant was a French naturalistic writer, considered by some to be one of the best short story writers ever.

Maupassant was born to Gustave and Laure de Maupassant in 1850, likely at the Château de Miromesnil (though this has been questioned). His parents had a second son, Hervé, in 1856 and separated in 1861. Maupassant's independent, intelligent mother took custody of both sons and personally educated them in great literature from a young age. As an adolescent, Maupassant was sent to be educated at a small seminary at Yvetot. However, he disliked this religious education and was expelled in 1868, after which time he moved to the lycée at Le Havre (where he was first introduced to Gustave Flaubert, who would later mentor him). He passed his baccalaureate and began studying law in Paris in 1869. His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-German War, for which Maupassant, at the age of 20, volunteered. In 1871 he returned to his law studies and, with the help of his father, he worked successfully in the Ministry of Marine and the Ministry of Public Instruction.

Because Maupassant's mother's sister was good friends with Gustave Flaubert, she encouraged Flaubert to look after Maupassant while he lived in Paris. Flaubert became a personal and literary mentor to Maupassant, saying, “He’s my disciple and I love him like a son.” Flaubert introduced Maupassant to authors including Zola, Turgenev, and Henry James, and saw to it that he moved from administrative jobs into writing, beginning in journalism. The artists loved to go boating together, especially in the company of prostitutes. 1880 was a turning point in Maupassant's life: Maupassant wrote "Boule De Suif" ("Ball of Fat"), which gained him instant popular and critical recognition, and Gustave Flaubert died suddenly. Throughout the decade, Maupassant wrote novels, travel books, verse, and over 300 short stories. During this time, Maupassant also wrote under the guise of a number of pen names. His stories are generally objective, everyday, and often comedic, though some breach the topics of madness and suicide. This is likely related to the fact that, beginning in his 20s, he suffered from syphilis, which he refused to treat and which began to cause deterioration of his mental health.

In 1888, Maupassant's brother, who also had syphilis, suddenly became violently psychotic and died the next year. This badly effected Maupassant. In 1892, Maupassant attempted suicide by cutting his throat and was taken to a private asylum. He died there in 1893, penning his own epitaph: "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing." He is still widely read in French and even more widely read in English.

Study Guides on Works by Guy de Maupassant