"In 'Boule de Suif' Guy de Maupassant plants a time bomb ticking under the seats of 'the moneyed class, self assured and solid, respected and dictatorial, pillars of the Church and morality'" How do you feel about this reading of the novella?

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“In ‘Boule de Suif’ Guy de Maupassant plants a time bomb ticking under the seats of ‘the moneyed class, self assured and solid, respected and dictatorial, pillars of the Church and morality’” How do you feel about this reading of the novella?

A story of ten passengers travelling across France during the Franco-Prussian war sets the scene for a tale of corruption, betrayal and the division between social classes.

        Each of the passengers on the coach has dubious pasts, morals and intentions, which poses the question of whether or not they are worthy enough to criticise the main character, Boule de Suif. M. and Mme. Loiseau are portrayed as two very different personalities, he as a “crafty scoundrel” and a practical joker and she as a cold frigid woman. M. Carrie-Lamadon is a corrupt businessman, who uses his political status to make his profit, and his wife, “considerably younger then her husband”, gets her financial support from her husband and her sexual satisfaction elsewhere. The Comte and Comtesse Hubert de Breville, possessing one of the most honored names in Normandy, gained their title through their ambiguous sexual history with the royal family. These three couples are all leaving their hometown to protect their finances and carry on trading. Sitting next to the Comtesse are two nuns, on their way to help at a military hospital. Cornudet, supposedly a democratic man of the people occupies a nearby seat, travelling to help fortify the next town against the Prussian invaders but running from his own town, rather then staying to fight.  

        Boule de Suif, a short fat prostitute, is apparently one of the least respectable women on board the coach, at least by title. Recognised for her “youthful stoutness” and her desirable yet oversized physique, she soon proves her generosity and respectability are far greater than any of the other passengers. The jealousy of the upper class passengers is apparent as soon as Boule de Suif steps onto the coach. They whisper quietly, yet audibly, insults and hurtful remarks. The story suggests that they feel “It was their duty…legitimate love is always scornful of its free-lance sister”. Their own sexual indecencies lead to their jealousy of Boule de Suif and her ripe sexuality. They all scorn Boule de Suif’s profession, whilst conveniently overlooking and glorifying their own questionable sexual histories. When Boule de Suif offers her food to the other passengers, they accept. They begin to talk to her, but it is more to do with the fact that “They could not well eat the prostitute’s food and not speak to her” rather than the fact they actually wanted to talk to her. Their insults are turned into compliments, Loiseau refers to her as “his charming neighbor” and she is “warmly congratulated” when she tells her reason for leaving. It seems when it is for their benefit, and they are getting something in return, they do not mind talking to the lower-class passenger. It is as if Boule de Suif has earned the privilege of their company and companionship, for the time being, and she should be grateful to them, rather then the other way round. It is only Mdm. Loiseau who refuses to talk to Boule de Suif. Her cold frigid nature makes it unsurprising her husband keeps “an admiring stare fixed” on Boule de Suif, and her oozing sensuality. When Boule de Suif has no more food to offer, and the other passengers can no longer gain from her presence, their attitudes towards her dampen, and a “slightly chillier atmosphere” sets in the coach.

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        Whilst talking with her fellow passengers, she reveals her reason for leaving, saying she would have killed the Prussians if she had not have left. She tells her story with such passion for her country, and aggression towards the Prussians, it puts to shame the other travellers’ reasons for leaving their town, for “saving their own skins”, and the fact that they “had not shown such courage”. They congratulate her and talk about patriotism, yet still fail to posses any kind of patriotic characteristic and would leave the country, if needed, to protect their wealth. Money and status come ...

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