Guy de Maupassant’s career, at least as the world rapturously acknowledge it, was of course not as a novelist (though he was never a mediocre writer in any form he undertook—not only novels of great brilliance and power, but poetry, plays, travel narratives, journalistic chronicles, criticism) but as the author, in no more than a dozen years, of a remarkable number of what in English are called, rather precariously, short stories, starting in 1881 with ‘Boule de suif,’ his first fiction, or at least the first fiction that his mentor (and his mother’s childhood friend) Flaubert, that tireless taskmaster, permitted him to sign with his own name. Three years later Maupassant had published as many as seventy contes, nouvelles, and what the journals of the day rather grandly called chroniques littératures; in 1884 (the next year!) he published sixty new stories; in 1885 thirty more; in 1886 eighty more; in 1887, along with two novels, another twenty tales; but then in the year before [his younger brother] Hervé died, only eight stories; and in 1889, eight more; in the year after Hervé’s death, Alien Hearts was published serially, and two plays were produced and successfully performed, and then not another word: after six weeks of uninterrupted crises (attacks of paralysis, spells of blindness) Guy de Maupassant in Dr. Blanche’s clinic in Passy. He was forty-three years old.
—today in 1850 Guy de Maupassant was born. Above is a good introductory paragraph from Richard Howard’s preface to Alien Hearts, which he also translated. Several years ago NYRB Classics also published Afloat, translated and with an introduction by Douglas Parmée. Oh, and recently released was a film adaptation of one of Maupassant’s other novel, Bel Ami. It starts Robert Pattinson, but he doesn’t have such an impressive mustache.