Mademoiselle Fifi by Guy de Maupassant

Read my first ever short story by Guy De Maupassant titled Mademoiselle Fifi. And, during this 10 page long read, my emotions swayed from one extreme to another. So thought of sharing my views with all of you. The story is very simple and can be summarized in just three lines. It is set in France, under siege of Germany and has a few soldiers as main characters, who are stationed in Chateu of Urville. They are feeling bored in a gloomy weather and resort to violent pastimes such as Making a Mine and enjoying the company of prostitutes. But, at dinner, something goes wrong and one of the Army men is killed. Instantly the inert men transform into enthusiastic soldiers, out to avenge their partner. However, despite this simple plot, the story had many facets. It moved from wonderful detailed description of weather and Architecture to comic talks to a psychological study of Human mind progressively.

But, let me tell you that my very first impression was not at all positive. In fact, I felt that it is named as complicatedly as the writer, in a desperate bid to attract readers and I was really bored with the slow pace and difficult to pronounce names of Protagonists. In the very beginning, the feminist in me reared her head and decided that the writer is a man given to worldly pleasures, has no respect for women and the story is going to be a steady tale of vulgarity served under the guise of romance. Moreover, it gave an impression that soldiers are the crudest men around, who love indulging in ribaldry and debauchery while the innocent citizens suffer in a war between two powerful nations. And, I should stop subjecting myself to this strange fiction immediately.

But, then I am nothing if not a stubborn reader and as I persisted, my biases began to evaporate in thin air. The writer is actually a very smart satirist, he dissected the highheld moral values in a systematic manner and laid bare the reality of our society. His characters seemed life like and while reading I could readily relate to them. Bigg Boss may be a modern idea, but these characters hardly behaved in a different manner. Perhaps the moment, we are left to our own, survival instincts take over. Weaklings are treated in the most abject manner, groups are formed and politics is exercised to suit our whims and fancies. In fact, Guy has created Fifi as an embodiment of all the evils that lurk inside our hearts and is always on the lookout for victims. On the other hand, we also have a Parish Priest inside us, who takes stand on a strange platform and then sticks to it, while the villagers upholding his bravery, also is a reflection of our own blind trust. Behavior of Commander is not an anomaly either. The authorities do ignore such whims so that the steam is let out at regular intervals and no major resentment spreads.

And as far as attitude towards women is concerned, most of the men do treat them as commodities. They are to be either won like trophies or be suppressed as a weak voice or in some specific circumstances, be placed on a high pedestal and worshipped as nonliving entities. And progressively I began believing in Guy’s modus operandi, falling for his frank prose and attitude. When the soldiers initially treated women like ladies, then graded them according to height, Fifi indulged in violent lust with Rachel and she was supposed to put up with all the insults of her possessor, it all seemed normal, a slightly exaggerated version of our society. Guy again played a master stroke, when he shows that Rachel is submissive towrds her own injuries and yet ends up murdering Fifi for an insult heaped on French Women. Yes, we women are an enigma and no wonder, men can’t understand us. Though Maupassant was, to some extent able to expose the peculiar idiosyncrasies we normally try to hide deep in our hearts.

So, despite having slight issues with the open orgy-like atmosphere Guy tries to create in the story, I have to concur that the writer is versatile and has a keen understanding of human nature. Would love to read more stories by him and test whether he lives up to my expectations….

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