Archive for the ‘Guy de Maupassant’ Category

Alien Hearts

December 16, 2017

Guy de Maupassant was another writer I encountered for the first time last December (with Femme Fatale). A master of the short story, Maupassant is often unregarded as a novelist, and Alien Hearts, his final novel, is perhaps the least appreciated of all, having waited a long time for this modern translation by Richard Howard. In summary it is a rather stark love story, though it does, of course, contain many of the psychological insights which characterise his stories. It takes place among the upper classes, detailing the relationship between Andre Mariolle, a wealthy bachelor of no fixed vocation, and Madame de Burne, a young widow. A love triangle of sorts, it could be argued that the third angle is love itself as both characters seem as interested in their relationship with love as with each other.

Madame de Burne is a woman who has already suffered one marriage and has decided to resist all further temptation. This is not to say she has closeted herself away; on the contrary, she delights in encouraging those men invited to her Thursday dinners to fall in love with her, declaring from the start that her encouragement has a limit:

“For all the loyal members of the group had fallen, one after the next, in love with Madame de Burne and, after the crisis, had remained attentive and fond to various degrees.”

When she first meets Mariolle, she is entirely (one might say mischievously) open with him:

“Something of a coquette? I often am, with people I like. Everyone knows it, and I don’t deny the fact, but you’ll find that my coquetry is quite impartial, which allows me to keep my friends… Don’t be deceived – you won’t get any more than the rest.”

Though Mariolle is immediately attracted to her, when he finally writes to her, Madame du Burne is relieved as “he resisted much longer than she might have predicted, for during the last three months she had deployed a greater array of attentions, a more elaborate expenditure of charm than she had ever produced for any of the others.” The letter, however, is a farewell:

“…he left her in no doubt that he knew how she dealt with men, that he too was caught in her toils but that he would free himself from this servitude before it began.”

She forestalls his departure by asking him to stay, and then, when she herself must leave for the country, concocting a plan which will allow them to meet. At this point we may feel uncertain as to whether she is simply unwilling to lose the ‘game’ of seduction (she talks more than once of her ‘victory’), or is actually falling in love, an uncertainty she shares:

“Yet, she had felt an impulse towards him, she felt it even now, deep in her heart. Perhaps she needed only to yield to it for it to become a real emotion.”

Their relationship reaches a (literal) highpoint when they climb the Madman’s Walk together – “a dizzying granite path winding with no parapet around the top of the last tower” – which encapsulates both the danger and thrill of love. When Mariolle refers to it later, however, Madame du Borne comments:

“…now that I think of it I’m rather appalled. How dizzy I’d be if I had to do it again! I must have been drunk on the air up there, and the sun, and the sea.”

Despite this, their relationship progresses and they begin to meet in secret. Mariolle, although he now has “more than the rest” is unsatisfied, his own victory tarnishing even his feelings of jealousy:

“He realised that he was jealous, no longer merely as an idealizing lover but as a possessive male.”

De Maupassant cleverly ensures our sympathies remain balanced: Madame du Burne’s initial honesty grants her some leeway with the reader, as does the sincerity of Mariolle’s love. The more she gives him, however, the less satisfied he becomes, and, as will later be demonstrated, trying to match the love of another is not as straight-forward as he believes. De Maupassant also avoids rushing headlong towards a tragic conclusion, leaving us with something far more nuanced and ambiguous, for, while the plot of Alien Hearts may seem a little dated, the emotions it exposes pulse as fiercely in our veins today.

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