On the World’s False Promises

De Maupassant’s narrative begins with a pretty woman living in the country who dreams of Paris whilst sleeping next to her snoring husband.

She had never “known a thing beyond the hideously banal monotony of regularly performed duties, which by all accounts was what happily married life consisted of.” For her, Paris is a dream world of escape – the city of lights, “representing the height of all magnificent luxury as well as licentiousness.”

The Promise

The woman’s lusty view of Paris has been cultivated by a steady diet of newspaper gossip, creating in her mind the model of a very different kind of man to her white-collar, small-town, conservative husband. Instead she dreamed of

“Men who made the headlines and shone like brilliant comets in the darkness of her sombre sky. She pictured the madly exciting lives they must lead, moving from one den of vice to the next, indulging in never-ending and extraordinarily voluptuous orgies, and practicing such complex and sophisticated sex as to defy the imagination. It seemed to her that behind the facades of the houses lining the canyon-like boulevards of the city, some amazing erotic secret must lie.”

The Fear of Missing Out

The woman, no longer able to resist the lure of the city, gripped by a nineteenth-century version of “the fear of missing out,” concocts an excuse to travel to Paris.

Giving Into the Allure of the Promise

Once arrived, she searches the streets looking for tantalizing scandal and spectacle. She fruitlessly searches the cafes, “Nowhere could she discover the dens of iniquity about which she had dreamed.”

Her dreams decomposing, she by chance happens upon an aging celebrity writer in one of the new department stores. Throwing aside her usual reserve, she aggressively flirts with him. The writer takes her on a tour of the sights and sounds of Paris.

At the theatre, thrillingly, “she was seen by the entire audience, sitting by his side in the first row of the balcony.” As the entertainment ends, the writer bids her goodnight. She, however, is determined to cross for the first time into the landscape of adultery and offers to accompany him home.

The Let Down

After an awkward and unsatisfying sexual encounter, the woman lies awake in the writer’s bed, wondering what she has done. She spends the night staring at the unattractive features of the man who, like her husband, snores and snorts through the night. She continues to stare, repulsed as the man’s saliva dribbles down his mouth as he sleeps. She flees home feeling as though

“Something inside her, too, had now been swept away, through the mud, down to the gutter and finally into the sewer had gone all the refuse of her over-excited imagination. Returning home, the image of Paris swept inexorable clean by the cold light of day filled her exhausted mind, and as she reached her room, sobs broke from her now quite frozen heart.”

Question for Reflection

  1. When did you discover this world cannot satisfy us?

Resources

Quoted from Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan, 55-56

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