‘At Sea’ by Guy de Maupassant

As a student of French, way back, I was taught that Maupassant (together with Prosper Mérimée) was a master of the short story. He published about 300 of them. I don’t remember how many I actually read, but I’ve never forgotten the vivid central image in this one, of the fisherman whose arm is cut off to save the catch. It’s firmly in the nineteenth century French realist tradition that Maupassant learned from Flaubert (Madame Bovary etc), and that encompasses all those gritty urban stories by Zola. Maupassant’s first love was the sea rather than the city, but he made as strong a social comment about the inhumane priorities of the fishing bosses in a short story as Flaubert did about the bourgoisie and Zola the factory and mine-owners in their novels.

(First published in 1888. You can read it in English here)

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