Our July story was by Guy de Maupassant. He was a popular French writer in the 19th Century. He wrote around 300 short stories and is considered to be one of the fathers of the modern short story. Many of his short stories (including this one) are set in the Franco-Prussian War. His common theme was the futility of war and its negative impact on civilians.
This particular story has a French colonel in the Franco-Prussian War ruminating on the role of women in war. He expounds that Frenchmen love women and they fight harder when women are involved. This philosophizing is brought on by the dilemma his unit is trapped in. They are caught behind enemy lines and are in bad shape. The men are exhausted and their morale is low. To make matters worse, it is cold and snowy. Most of the men do not want to go on. It’s too bad they don’t have a woman to motivate them. But wait… They encounter an old man and his pretty daughter. Suddenly the spirits of the men soar. They have something to live for and something to fight for. The timing is perfect because they soon run into a unit of Prussian lancers. They dispatch the horsemen with rifle fire. It is assumed that if that pretty girl had not been with them, they would not have put up much of a fight. It’s a shame the French army in 1940 was not issued a pretty girl for each regiment.
I don’t know what to make of this story. I assume Maupassant had a great sense of humor and the story was written tongue in cheek. Then again, he may have been accurate in his assessment of what it takes to get the French to fight. The story certainly is comical given France’s track record since he wrote the story. Perhaps he was lamenting France’s performance in the Franco-Prussian War. He does mention that the outcome of the Battle of Sedan might have been different if a woman had been involved. After all, French men are “cavaliers of love”. You would think that would make them lovers not fighters, but the colonel suggests that if you combine the two, look out.
I have to say the story was a disappointment. It’s not much of a war story and I felt it was a bit on the silly side. I’m no fan of the French army in recent history, but the story seemed to be kicking a dead horse. I know that is not what Maupassant intended, but it does have a lot of irony flowing from it. It is a fun read, however. One of the soldiers actually says “confound it”. How 19th Century. Better yet, another proclaims that “there is nothing like a woman to make you feel queer from head to foot”! Insert your own comment here.
GRADE = D