Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 13, 2021

A Day in the Country (Une partie de Campagne), in Original Short Stories Vol 12, by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Albert M C McMaster

I read this short story by Guy de Maupassant because I have plans to watch the film with a friend of mine who’s also learning French.

The film appears to have an interesting little history. According to Wikipedia:

Partie de campagne is a 1936 French featurette written and directed by Jean Renoir. It was released as A Day in the Country in the United States. The film is based on the short story “Une partie de campagne” (1881) by Guy de Maupassant, who was a friend of Renoir’s father, the renowned painter Auguste Renoir. It chronicles a love affair over a single summer afternoon in 1860 along the banks of the Seine.

Renoir never finished filming due to weather problems, but producer Pierre Braunberger turned the material into a release in 1946, ten years after it was shot. Joseph Burstyn released the film in the U.S. in 1950.

The short story ‘A Day in the Country’ is in my freebie edition, Original Short Stories Vol 12 by Guy de Maupassant, which I acquired for the Kindle a good while ago.  It isn’t very forthcoming with publishing details.  It credits a producer as David Widget, and mentions translators as Albert M.C. McMaster, A.E. Henderson and Mms Quesada and Others, and also acknowledges ‘Public Domain Books’.  These details are the same as the 2004 edition named as The Entire Original Maupassant Short Stories at Project Gutenberg but my edition doesn’t have the usual yada-yada about the Gutenberg terms of use and licence.  Which it should have if that’s the source of it.

Anyway…

It seems a slight story to turn into an 80 minute film: it’s only about 4000 words and it only took 15 minutes to read, if that.  But as always with Maupassant, there’s always more to it than that.

Monsieur Dufour, an ironmonger in Paris, takes his family for a long-desired day in the country to celebrate Madame Dufour’s birthday.   He borrows the milkman’s wagon; Grandma, Dufour’s daughter Henriette and the apprentice come too. Their sentimental expectations are disappointed soon after Madame Dufour exclaims her delight at being in the countryside at last:

The sun was beginning to burn their faces, the dust got into their eyes, and on either side of the road there stretched an interminable tract of bare, ugly country with an unpleasant odour. One might have thought that it had been ravaged by a pestilence, which had even attacked the buildings, for skeletons of dilapidated and deserted houses, or small cottages, which were left in an unfinished state, because the contractors had not been paid, reared their four roofless walls on each side. Here and there tall factory chimneys rose up from the barren soil. The only vegetation on that putrid land, where the spring breezes wafted an odour of petroleum and slate, blended with another odour that was even less agreeable. (Guy de Maupassant, Original Short Stories — Volume 12 . Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition, Loc. 63.)

But things improve as they cross the Seine again and when they reach Bezons they stop at a roadside inn for lunch.  Some testiness in the Dufour relationship is subtly revealed: “Well, Madame Dufour, will this suit you? Will you make up your mind at last?” he says, and she takes her own sweet time to consider it.  Her stout appearance and superabundant bosom forced up by her straining corsets to her double chin have already been noted; and whereas Henriette attracts the interest of some young men when she launches herself from a swing with a pretty show of leg and hair blowing free when her hat comes off, alas, Madame Dufour can’t get herself off the ground.  If you look at the DVD cover at Wikipedia she doesn’t seem as chubby as all that,  but the text is quite explicit:

Sitting in the other swing, Madame Dufour kept saying in a monotonous voice: “Cyprian, come and swing me; do come and swing me, Cyprian!” At last he went, and turning up his shirt sleeves, as if undertaking a hard piece of work, with much difficulty he set his wife in motion […] and her whole figure shook like a jelly on a dish. (Loc. 87)

Maupassant pre-dates the concept of fat-shaming.

BEWARE: SPOILERS

The two young men who have been watching Henriette take the opportunity to start a conversation when they offer the Dufours their table.  Attired in boating costumes, they are contrasted with the yellow-haired apprentice though it’s not explicit.  Since he and Dufour get drunk, he doesn’t get much of a mention in any of what follows, not until the end of the story:

They were sun-browned and their thin cotton jerseys, with short sleeves, showed their bare arms, which were as strong as a blacksmith’s. They were two strong, athletic fellows, who showed in all their movements that elasticity and grace of limb which can only be acquired by exercise and which is so different to the deformity with which monotonous heavy work stamps the mechanic. (Loc.111)

The young men offer to take the ladies up the river in their boats. Henri (who has the good fortune to have a name similar to Henriette’s) wangles it so that he rows the pretty young girl while the other made a martyr of himself and took the mother.

Well, the unexpected twist is that Henriette is indignant about Henri’s advances, and she calls a hostile halt to the flirtation.  Returning to the inn…

…they walked rapidly, side by side, without speaking or touching each other, for they seemed to have become irreconcilable enemies, as if disgust and hatred had arisen between them. (Loc 183)…

…while the ‘martyr’ turns out to have had an unexpected pleasure:

By and by they heard a noise behind a bush, and the stout lady appeared, looking rather confused, and her companion’s face was wrinkled with smiles which he could not check. (Loc. 183)

The family goes back to Paris, farewelling the young men with only a sigh and a tear.  When two months later, Henri calls in at the shop, he learns that Henriette is married: the apprentice has joined the business.  And in case we needed confirmation of Madame Dufour’s interest in his friend, there is this exchange.

He was going out, feeling very unhappy, though scarcely knowing why, when Madame called him back.
“And how is your friend?” she asked rather shyly.
“He is very well, thank you.”
“Please give him our compliments, and beg him to come and call, when he is in the neighbourhood.”
She then added: “Tell him it will give me great pleasure.”
“I will be sure to do so. Adieu!”
“Do not say that; come again very soon.” (Loc. 206)

A year later, he returns to the scene of his abortive dalliance, to find Henriette sitting sadly on the grass, while by her side, still in his shirt sleeves, the young man with the yellow hair was sleeping soundly, like some animal.  They share nostalgic memories of that day:

…when he told her that he was very fond of that spot, and went there frequently on Sundays to indulge in memories, she looked into his eyes for a long time.
“I too, think of it,” she replied.
“Come, my dear,” her husband said, with a yawn. “I think it is time for us to be going.” (Loc. 206)

I gather from the summary at Wikipedia that the film takes liberties with this story, and we shall have to see if it has the same mildly cynical tone.  But FWIW, I think this short story has a similar preoccupation to Maupassant’s 1889 novel Like Death which I reviewed here.  In that novel happiness is thwarted by the ambition to make a good marriage in Paris; in this short story Henriette (who we can assume is an Dufour’s only heir) is herself complicit in rejecting happiness in order to keep the young apprentice in the family business.

Update 21/1/21: Well, we watched the film, and it is different.  The testiness between the husband and wife is gone, and although she does go off in the boat with the young man and giggles a lot, it’s not because the husband and the apprentice have fallen asleep after drinking too much wine, it’s because the young boatmen have lent them some fishing rods.  It’s not at all clear that there’s been hanky-panky between the mother and the young man because they have cut entirely the scene where in Paris, she makes it clear that she would very much like to see him again, and sooner rather than late.  It’s still a good film, but it would have been better without the coyness and the clichéd Hollywood music.

Author: Guy de Maupassant
Title: Original Short Stories Vol 12
Publisher: Freebie Kindle Edition, probably sourced from The Entire Original Maupassant Short Stories at Project Gutenberg 2004.  I haven’t been able to find the first date of publication for this story.

There is a more modern translation by David Coward available in the Oxford World’s Classics edition A Day in the Country and Other Stories. As always with this series, it has perfectly appropriate cover art for its title story.  Available from Fishpond: A Day in the Country and Other Stories (Oxford World’s Classics)

Cross-posted at Marvellous Maupassant.


Responses

  1. […] Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers. […]

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  2. His short stories were my first introduction to the genre and still remember some of them though not this particular one. My interest in the form has never waned and he along with Chekov two of my personal favourites. Am sure the film will be absorbing. What a master of the medium. Lucky you to be fully engaged in the language. I am jealous being a monolingual although fluent in Glaswegian.

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    • No, I must ‘fess up, I didn’t mean to give the impression I’d read this one in French. Though now I’m wondering if I could have…
      I’m not fond of short stories, but I do like one every now and again if I’m in the mood. With this one I stumbled on it when I Googled the film to see when it was made, and I knew I had Maupassant’s stories on the kindle so I thought that might tell me when the story was written. (LOL I need to practice dates in French and talking about this film with my friend is an opportunity to do that.) It was so short, I’d finished it before I knew what I was doing!

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  3. I enjoyed this post. I’m sure I’ve read this story in the distant past, so it was good to have it brought back into focus. Typical of Maupassant to subvert expectations. I’m reminded, Lisa, that I still haven’t posted on your Maupassant site my post on a different G de M collection. Remiss of me – must get my act together.

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    • All in good time, Simon, if I have to choose between your posts about your rambles in Cornwall or a post on the Maupassant site, those photos of peacocks win hands down!

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  4. Fascinating. He does seem to have a predeliction for featuring larger ladies in his stories… but often with a twist in their favour! As you say, the woman on the cover isn’t that generously made, so I imagine the film does take a lot of liberties.

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    • I’ll let you know next week after we’ve watched the movie.
      There is some minor significance to this event. BC (before Covid) this friend came to my house once a week and we’d have a desultory conversation in French, have a nice lunch prepared by The Spouse, and then we’d watch a ouple of episodes of the French TV series Un Village Francais on DVD. Our 114-day lockdown put a stop to that. But towards the end of it, we were able to start taking a walk together, first within the 5k limit that was mandated, where her 5k radius intersected with mine, and then as they relaxed the restrictions, walking in other parks. (We are singularly blessed with parks in my part of Melbourne, plus we have the beach). These walks have been the highlight of my week, but it was even better when we were at last able to have coffee at a café under the rules about seating outside, and then we had lunch outdoors at my place. Even at Christmas it was recommended that we eat outdoors, which we did, but next week we are taking the plunge and whether we eat indoors or out (depends on the weather) we are going to be inside watching this film.
      Such a simple thing. I marvel now that I ever took it for granted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know. What we used to regard as normal now seems strange and exotic. How life has changed….

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        • Good luck with your trip to the movies. I haven’t been back since Covid – my last movie was in Feb last year. But I have eaten out a number of times. Sydney loves outdoor cafes, which makes it easy and some areas have closed roads to increase outdoor seating for restaurants.
          Hope you enjoy your outing.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oooh no, not going to the movies, no way. We’ll be watching this film on our TV.
            Our outings have been confined to restaurants so far. Posh restaurants have always had socially distanced tables anyway, and our local cafés have always done outdoors, especially along the beach road so you can enjoy the view.
            We are toying with the idea of doing some art gallery visits on the Mornington Peninsula, but really, we are very lazy in the summer and tend to loaf at home!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Ahh that makes more sense! I thought you we being very brave & courageous!

              Liked by 1 person

  5. i’ve enjoyed all the stories i have read by him rob around books did a
    weekly where he was trying to read all his stories many years ago

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    • Did he? That’s a major undertaking, like reading Balzac’s Comedie Francaise. I read all those, a story each week, maybe that’s what I should do with Mapassant as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • i’m just to much of a butterfly to do something like that to a schedule i’m wanting to do all anthony burgess books on the blog an old love i’ve nearly all of them on shelves just a couple that are really rare that i’ve not got

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        • I’m a butterfly too. I made it sound like I was a really organised person, but in reality of course I missed some and had to make up for that when I got back to routine.
          Anthony Burgess sounds interesting, I’ve only ever read A Clockwork Orange.
          I really enjoyed your Henry Green Week and still have some of his to read that date from that week…

          Liked by 1 person

  6. When you think that it only shows 90 minutes or so of activity, I think movies are much more suited to short stories than to novels.

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    • Indeed, that does make sense…

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  7. I didn’t read after the spoiler alert though I probably should have as I may have read this. I am going to get my Guy de Maupassant short story book that was my bed-time reading during university days. I don’t remember many of them now but I really loved reading them as a break from study.

    I think, generally, short-stories are excellent fodder for movies as less needs to be left out. I think miniseries, like the 1995 one, are better for novels than films, but I suppose it does depend on the novel or story!

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    • Ah ha, your secret is out, you are a Maupassant aficionado!
      Could you be persuaded, if you review any of those short stories on your blog, to cross-post them at Marvellous Maupassant?
      After I set up La Comedie Humaine for Balzac with Dagny, I then set up one each for Zola, George Sand and Maupassant. The Zola and Balzac sites are exactly what I wanted them to be, but George Sand and Maupassant are languishing a bit, and it would be really good if just every now and again #NoPressure you could contribute?

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      • If I do a Maupassant some time, and I forget, you will need to remind me as I’d be very happy to do so. I had seen some of those sites a while ago, and was impressed by your industry.

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  8. What a lovely review, I chuckled all the way through it! I must see if the library has a book of his short stories, seems I’ve been missing something!

    I can vouch for the joy of actually sitting at an outside table at a cafe to have a coffee – the first time I did this after many months it was a real treat! In fact I’m still not fully used to it again, it still feels wonderfully indulgent!

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    • Don’t forget that you can download them for free from Gutenberg, the link is down at the bottom of the review. You can then read them on the Kindle App with an iPad or a computer.

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  9. I love short stories… gonna have to get onto Gutenberg soon for some of these, I see.

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    • Gutenberg is fantastic… I went mad when I got my Kindle and downloaded heaps of them, which is how I came to have this Maupassant collection.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I got a few things from there like The Yellow Wallpaper and Lady Susan.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. This does sound very much like Maupassant! I haven’t read this particular one, but the beginning of your review made me think of other Maupassant short stories featuring older couples and outings to the country, such as “Le Trou” and “Au bois”. At least in the second one, both the man and the woman are “très rond, très gras”. I hope you’ll share your opinion once you’ve seen the film.

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    • Re the film, I will… here, not a separate post…
      Thanks for steering me towards Le trou and Au Bois, I will see if they are in included in the collection I have.

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