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Guy de Maupassant | Biography

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Guy de Maupassant was born Henry-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant on August 5, 1850, to Gustave and Laure de Maupassant. He had one brother, Hervé, six years younger. Gustave de Maupassant came from a minor aristocratic line, and he and his wife were both from Norman French families. That shared heritage didn't save their marriage, though, as the couple had traits that pulled them apart. Maupassant's mother was emotionally sensitive and highly protective of her offspring. His father was known to have affairs. The couple separated when Guy was 11.

During much of his adolescence, Maupassant lived with his mother in Etretat, a coastal town that was both an active fishing village and a vacation resort. Etretat gave Maupassant the chance to observe people from many different classes: local fishermen and peasant farmers but also artists and the rich. When Maupassant was a teenager, he helped rescue a drowning man who subsequently invited Maupassant to lunch to thank him. This rescued man was the English poet Charles Swinburne, who showed the young Maupassant a range of interesting things at their lunch, including a withered human hand and a pet monkey.

Though his family was not particularly religious, Maupassant attended a seminary for the first stages of his education. Unhappy with seminary life, he managed to get himself expelled in 1868, after which he attended a secular lycée (secondary school) at Le Havre. After passing his baccalaureate in 1869, Maupassant started studying law in Paris in the fall of that year. When the Franco-German War broke out in 1870, Maupassant volunteered to serve; he would draw on his war experiences for several stories. Although these experiences do not directly relate to "The Necklace," the war did provide context for it. The French loss in the war ruined Maupassant's father's tobacco business, causing the family anxiety over lost position and income like the Loisels' experience in "The Necklace."

In 1871 after leaving the military, Maupassant resumed his legal studies. His father helped Maupassant obtain government positions, first in the Ministry of the Marine (Navy) and then in the Ministry of Public Instruction.

While Maupassant published some minor pieces in the 1870s, his popularity as a writer began in April 1880 when he published "Boule de Suif" (Ball of Fat) in a multiauthor collection about the Franco-German War. From then on Maupassant was in great demand and became intensely productive and rich. He published more than 300 short stories, six novels, three travel accounts, two plays, and a poetry collection. His intense productivity established Maupassant as one of France's most influential writers.

In 1884 Maupassant published what became his most famous story, "La Parure," in the newspaper Le Gaulois, a publication with notable contributors such as Gaston Laroux, who decades later would serialize The Phantom of the Opera in its pages. "La Parure" has been translated as "The Diamond Necklace" as well as "The Necklace."

Maupassant had been active and athletic when he was young, sometimes rowing up to 50 miles in a single day. However, he was promiscuous and developed syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, when still in his 20s. His brother Hervé died of the same disease after a breakdown. As Maupassant grew older, he worried about both his physical and mental conditions. With his brother's death preying on his mind, Maupassant attempted suicide in January 1892, after which his mother had him committed to a mental hospital. Maupassant died on July 6, 1893. Naturalist French writer Émile Zola delivered Maupassant's funeral oration.

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