Topic outline


    Maupassant and Flaubert

    Movies from Marlboro Core Course | Spring 2014


    Faculty: Boukary Sawadogo

    3 credits.

    Meeting Times: Monday and Friday, 2:00pm to 3:20pm in Serkin Center/Ragle Hall



    Considered one the fathers of the modern short story, Guy de Maupassant shares a number of literary qualities with his mentor Gustave Flaubert. Both men aspired to create meticulous and richly detailed works noted for their truthful characterization, psychological complexity, ironic treatment, and a commitment to what came to be known as literary realism, distinguished for its unvarnished depiction of contemporary life and society and the common man (and woman).  Both writers were also seen as expressing a measured pessimism about life, including how romanticism, as exemplified in Maupassant’s Pierre et Jean and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, could lead to unhappy and even tragic results. 


    In Maupassant’s Pierre et Jean, which we will adapt into a New England seaside film this semester, Maupassant creates a complex psychological study of people in everyday life who face challenges when an unexpected inheritance upends family relationships and triggers questions of legacy, legitimacy, subservience to habit, perception of self and others, the values of the bourgeoisie, and the yielding to illicit passion which was in those times a crime punishable under the law.  Maupassant’s use of a seaside setting also figures prominently into his thematic expressions.


    Drawing on works by Maupassant and Flaubert, the class will investigate and compare the treatment of gender and morality by both writers, as well as topics including illegitimacy, corruption, adultery, fatalism and flight from the mundane. Consideration will also be given to each writer’s relationship to 19th century realist and naturalist styles.


    Assignments will include readings, in-class discussions, and papers.


    Required Texts

    • Pierre et Jean by Maupassant
    • A Woman’s Life by by Maupassant
    • Selected Short Stories of Maupassant:

     L’ Heritage, Boule de Suif, La Maison Tellier, Mademoiselle Fifi

    • Madame Bovary by Flaubert
    • A Simple Heart by Flaubert
    • Assorted critical readings on Maupassant and Flaubert



    Additional Texts  

    Excerpts from the following texts will be distributed for consideration and discussion.


    • Guy de Maupassant. Edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom (2004)
    • Guy de Maupassant by Joseph Conrad.  Joseph Conrad. (1919)
    • The Art of Rupture.  Narrative Desire and Duplicity in the Tales of Guy de Maupassant. Charles J.S. Stivale  (1994)
    • Struggling under the Destructive Glance.  Androgyny in the Novels of Guy de Maupassant. Rachel M. H. Hartig. (1991)
    • A Woman’s Revenge: The Chronology of Dispossession in Maupassant’s Fiction (Donaldson-Evans). (1986)
    • Maupassant in the Hall of Mirrors: Ironies of Repetition in the work of Guy de Maupassant.  Trevor Harris. (1990)
    • Illusion and Reality: A study of Descriptive Techniques in the works of Guy de Maupassant.  J. Raymond Dugan (1973)
    • Maupassant’s Fiction and the Darwinian View of Life.  Laurence Gregario. (2005)
    • Flaubert and Madame Bovary: A Double Portrait  Francis Steegmuller  2005
    • Flaubert: Writing the Masculine Mary Orr (2005)
    • Flaubert Remembers: Memory and Creative Experience. William VanderWolk (1990)
    • Critical Essays on Gustave Flaubert. Selected by Laurence M. Porter
    • Flaubert Writing: A Study in Narrative Strategies. Michal Peled Ginsburg (1986)
    • Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty. Jonathan Culler (1985)
    • Toward the Real Flaubert: A Study of Madame Bovary. Margaret Lowe (1984)
    • The Critical Reception of Gustave Flaubert in the United States.  Ernest Jackson (1966)
    • Gustave Flaubert and the Art of Realism. Anthony Thorlby.  (1957).



    • One critical analysis paper exploring shared and distinct themes employed by both writers.
    • A mid-term paper.
    • A final paper.


    Statement on Academic Honesty

    Students should familiarize themselves with the College’s policy on academic dishonesty before using any sources. All written assignments handed in during the semester must be written by the student alone. Plagiarism is highly penalized and undesirable.


    Please adhere to the Academic Integrity policy found in:


    If you need help with grammar or citing sources please see the following websites:



    Course Requirements

    • Attend class: Due to the condensed nature of the class, attendance at each and every meeting is critical. One unexcused absence will lead to a reduction of your final grade. Three or more unexcused absences will lead to failure.


    • Be prepared for class: read all the assignments by the day they are due and come to class prepared to discuss them.


    • Response papers: Typically, these papers should provide a personal and detailed response to the assignment.  Take the reader into the world of the stories and to specific moments that support your thesis. Don’t just re-tell the story—engage the elements that speak to you or fail to do so. Take chances with the ideas you put forward.  Submit polished work that has undergone revision.



    Attendance & participation 30%

    Response Papers 35%

    Written exams 35%

    **The professor reserves the right to make changes to the schedule as necessary**

    • Friday, Jan. 24th

      Mademoiselle Fifi

      • Monday, Jan. 27th

        Maupassant’s Peter and John

        Monday's class meeting is devoted primarily to examining how Peter and John can be considered as a psychological novel, but we'll also look at how the preface sheds light on the short story in terms of thematic continuity.

        Please find attached questions that will guide your preparation for the discussion of these two points.


        • Friday, Jan. 31st

          Maupassant’s Peter and John

          1. Mariage as a commercial arrangement

          2. Adultery & illegitimacy

          3. What is Maupassant's attitude towards marriage and love?

          • Monday, Feb. 3rd

            Maupassant’s Peter and John

            In preparation for the critical analysis assignment due for Friday, this class session will be structured around group work. In groups of three, you’ll discuss and report to the class your reflections on the following questions: 

            1. How is Pierre et Jean a study of perception of self and others?

            2. How is Maupassant’s use of a seaside setting central to his thematic expressions of drama (end of the story, characters and psychology, etc.)?

            3. How is pessimism about life or human nature exemplified in Pierre et Jean?

            4. What do we learn about literary realism through the depiction of contemporary life, society and the location (Normandy/Le Havre)?

            • Friday, Feb. 7th

              Boule de Suif  (see attached text) 

              1. Explain how the ten (10) travelers represent a microcosm of the the French society

              2. How is the bourgeoisie portrayed?

              3. Thematic treatment: patriotism, sacrifice and perception / truth 

              4.  Critique of the French society: are the French better than the Germans (exemplified by the comandant) in terms of behavior?

              5. Compare the characters of Boule de Suif and that of Rachel in Mademoiselle Fifi

              • Monday, Feb. 10th

                1. The Heritage: questions

                a. Describe the portrayal of the main characters of the story

                b. Explain how The Heritage is a story on illegitimacy, immorality and human greed. 

                c. Psychological dimensions of the story: the delicate situation that Lesable finds himself in. 

                d. Explore the relationships between Lesable, Cachelin and Cora

                Please find below a link to the short story "The Heritage":


                2. Critical analysis paper: In a 3 to 5-page essay, write a critical analysis of how self and identity are portrayed in Pierre et Jean. 

              • Friday, Feb. 14th

                Maupassant's The Heritage

                a. Describe the portrayal of the main characters of the story

                b. Explain how The Heritage is a story on illegitimacy, immorality and human greed. 

                c. Psychological dimensions of the story: the delicate situation that Lesable finds himself in. 

                d. Explore the relationships between Lesable, Cachelin and Cora

                e. Comparison between Pierre et Jean and The Heritage (characters & narrative)


                • Monday, Feb. 17th

                  Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

                  1. Literary realism: truthful characterization

                  2. Narrative: shift of the focus (Emma < > Charles)?

                  3. Adultery

                  4. Demonstrate how romanticism could lead to tragic ends?

                  5. Rejection of the vulgarity of the bourgeois 

                  • Friday, Feb. 21st

                    Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

                    1. Madame Bovary: Moeurs de Province

                    2. Emma: search for love's passion

                    3. Critique of romanticism

                    4. Issues of morality

                    5. Heroines in great classics

                    6. Perception vs. truth or appearance vs. reality

                    • Monday, Feb. 24th

                      Comparative study of works by Maupassant & Flaubert: Pierre et Jean, Boule de Suif, Mademoiselle Fifi, The heritage, Madame Bovary

                      - Realism and narrative structure of selected works

                      - Characterization and psychological analysis of characters

                      - Recurrent themes

                    • Friday, Feb. 28th

                      Maupassant’s A Woman’s Life

                      • Monday, March 3rd

                        Maupassant’s A Woman’s Life

                        • Friday, March 7th

                          Flaubert’s A Simple Heart

                          • Monday, March 10th

                            Maupassant's La Maison Tellier


                          • Friday, March 14th

                            General review & discussion