‘A Day in the Country’ by Guy de Maupassant, translated by David Coward

With Maupassant’s characteristic oscillation between the salacious and the highly moral, this is a tale of lust in a sylvan setting; one alive to the brevity of life, and the importance of enjoying earthly pleasures while there’s still time. A story of transgression crashing in on bourgeoise complacency, it centres on the wife and daughter of Monsieur Dufour as they are pursued by two young bucks on a day trip to the country. Maupassant manages to make the old trope of the forest as a site of danger and licence somehow fresh and alive. When the daughter Henriette finally succumbs her seducer, the passage in which nature mirrors the act of lovemaking – a necessary fig leaf for late nineteenth-century sensibilities – anticipates the lyrical flights of Lawrence:  

The bird went into raptures, and its call, slowly gathering speed like a house which catches fire or a passion which grows, seemed the accompaniment to a crackle of kisses beneath the tree. The ecstasy of its song turned into a frenzy. It held long, swooning, single notes and burst into wild spasms of melody… At last it fell silent, and to its ears came the sound of a moan so devout that it might have been mistaken for a soul bidding farewell to life.

First published as ‘Partie de campagne’ in La Vie modern, April 1881, collected in A Day in the Country and Other Stories, Oxford World’s Classics, 1990

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