This time around we’ll examine classic short stories about appearances, reality VS illusion, and perception.
A poet once said that ”beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
But consider, if you will, one young woman, Madame Loisel; a lady who is beautiful, but not content with her social station in life. She has the appearance of beauty . . . will she ever possess the reality?
Here is Guy De Maupassant’s ironic short story, “The Diamond Necklace.” Enjoy!
“Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace” (“La parure”) was first published in the Paris newspaper Le Gaulois on February 17, 1884, and was subsequently included in his 1885 collection of short stories Tales of Day and Night (Contes de jour et de la nuit).
In addition to its well-rounded characters, tight plotting, wealth of detail, and keen social commentary, “The Necklace” is conspicuous for its use of the “whip-crack” or “O. Henry” ending,in which a plot twist at the end of the story completely changes the story’s meaning. Although Maupassant rarely made use of this device, its presence in the work has tied him to it irrevocably.
Connections may be made between “The Necklace” and the novel Madame Bovary written by Maupassant’s mentor and friend, Gustave Flaubert.
Both stories feature a young, beautiful woman in a social situation that she finds distasteful. Like Madame Bovary, Mathilde Loisel attempts to escape her social station in life, but her scheming actions ultimately doom her.”
(Read the full study HERE.)
A bit about Guy De Maupassant . . .
Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant (5 August 1850 – 6 July 1893) was a French writer, remembered as a master of the short story form, and as a representative of the naturalist school of writers, who depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms.
Maupassant was a protégé of Flaubert and his stories are characterized by economy of style and efficient, effortless dénouements (outcomes). Many are set during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s, describing the futility of war and the innocent civilians who, caught up in events beyond their control, are permanently changed by their experiences. He wrote some 300 short stories, six novels, three travel books, and one volume of verse. His first published story, “Boule de Suif” (“Ball of Fat”, 1880), is often considered his masterpiece.
“The Far and the Near” by Thomas Wolfe
Let’s continue our examination of reality versus perception, appearance, and perspective with a very short story.
This one’s just three pages in length.
It’s time to meet the engineer of the Limited Express.
Has he ever passed by your town?
Here is “The Far and the Near” by the author Thomas Wolfe.
Thomas Wolfe’s short story “The Far and the Near” was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1935 and was reprinted later that year in Wolfe’s first short—story collection, From Death to Morning.
For a writer known by his long, sprawling novels such as Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life and Of Time and the River, this ultrashort short story is a rare occurrence. While Wolfe’s novels have often fallen under criticism for their excessive autobiographical sources, the influence of their editors, and Wolfe’s wordy style, many critics in the last half of the twentieth century began to praise Wolfe for his short fiction.
“The Far and the Near” details the story of a railroad engineer in the 1930s who passes a certain cottage every day for more than twenty years, waving to the women who live there but never actually meeting them or seeing them up close. Upon his retirement, he goes to see the women, but they treat him badly and destroy the idyllic vision that he has built up around them.
Within its few pages, Wolfe’s short story emphasizes the potentially devastating effects on a person who is forced to confront the reality behind a vision. Since the work was written during the Great Depression, the loss of hope that takes place in the story would have been extremely familiar to Wolfe’s audience. The story can be found in the paperback edition of The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe, which was published by Collier Books in 1989.¹
Wolfe inspired the works of many other authors, including Betty Smith with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek, and Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy, who has said, “My writing career began the instant I finished Look Homeward, Angel.”Jack Kerouac idolized Wolfe. Ray Bradbury was influenced by Wolfe, and included him as a character in his books. Earl Hamner, Jr., who went on to create the popular television series The Waltons, idolized Wolfe in his youth.
Hunter S. Thompson credits Wolfe for his famous phrase “Fear and Loathing” (on page 62 of Wolfe’s The Web and the Rock).
For more information, check out this exploration of Thomas Wolfe’s Work, from SCRBD.
“Moments of the real world, the one we all experience, seem mysteriously taken out of time. The way the world glimpsed in passing from a train, say, or a car, will reveal a piece of a narrative whose completion we may or may not attempt, but whose suggestiveness will move us, making us conscious of the fragmentary, even fugitive nature of our own lives.” -Mark Strand
“Wolfe’s works reflected the country’s loss of stability and control (after World War One.) Modern storytelling was open-ended, fragmented, and narrated from a limited point of view-often leaving the reader frustrated, but challenged. Themes were no longer explained; they were implied. The Modernist audience must interpret this new literature, as well as a new era, for themselves.
Realist painter Edward Hopper also captured this fragmented, isolated American scene during the Depression Era. He and fellow American artists Robert Henri and John Sloan painted city scenes of everyday working class people, although he disassociated himself with the Ash Can School. The urban landscape lured a potential work force to the big cities, where people only met anonymity and isolation. He was fascinated by the lonely-solitary people, dark streets, vacant windows, and empty theater seats. Even his small groups of human subjects were indifferent and disconnected. His simplified shapes suggest
abstraction, but represent a realist vision.”
A bit about Thomas Wolfe . . .
Thomas Clayton Wolfe (October 3, 1900 – September 15, 1938) was an American novelist of the early twentieth century.
Wolfe wrote four lengthy novels, plus many short stories, dramatic works, and novellas. He is known for mixing highly original, poetic, rhapsodic, and impressionistic prose with autobiographical writing. His books, written and published from the 1920s to the 1940s, vividly reflect on American culture and the mores of that period, filtered through Wolfe’s sensitive, sophisticated, and hyper-analytical perspective.
You can purchase his collected short stories here.
For more information . . .
Be sure to check out The Thomas Wolfe Society’s great website.