DIARY OF A MAD MAN:
THE HORROR STORIES OF GUY DE MAUPASSANT
Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) is a strange figure in
French literature. The majority of his works are short
stories dealing with the social life of the French,
most humorous, many with twist endings. The rest of
de Maupassant's original output were tales of the Franco-Prussian
War, described in a black humorous style. He is considered
to be part of the Realist school, following his master,
Gustave Flaubert. Today he is remembered for a handful
of surprise ending stories such as "The
Necklace" and for his horror tales.
is with Le Gaulois in 1883 that de Maupassant
diverted himself from a career as a humorous short story
writer and begins on a second career that would make
him a horror writer to stand beside Edgar Allan Poe.
The stories in de Maupassant's first nine volumes often
speak of insanity, and it becomes clear that the author
had a fascination with mental illness that grew with
time, for lunacy is often used by de Maupassant as a
plot devise. In
"Diary of a Mad Man" we read
a judge's diary revealing how he was obsessed with killing
then murders a little boy and a fisherman. The editor
appends that many such unknown killers are at large
Price in The Diary of a Madman (1963)
fascination with insanity becomes reality for de Maupassant
in the 1880s. The French writer suffered from syphilis
which produced a growing mental illness. It is during
these last ten years he produced his most popular and
terrifying stories, and indulging for the first time
in true supernatural fiction (His earlier stories like
"The White Lady" and "The Specter"
contained no real phantoms, merely using the semblance
of the supernatural to further a plot). H. P. Lovecraft
in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature"
makes the distinction between de Maupassant and other
horror-tales of the powerful and cynical Guy de Maupassant,
written as his final madness gradually overtook him,
present individualities of their own; being rather the
morbid outpourings of a realistic mind in a pathological
state than the healthy imaginative products of a vision
naturally disposed toward phantasy and sensitive to
the normal illusions of the unseen."
Terror" is most often considered de Maupassant's
first horror story and an indictor of his coming madness.
In this tale, a solitary man explains why he is getting
married to a woman he does not love. He simply can't
stand to be alone. He believes he is going insane after
seeing a shadowy figure in his room. The figure never
reappears but the man can feel it lurking. It is not
the figure's intentions which frighten him (and the
reader) but merely its presence.
de Maupassant's terror tales, roughly half are tales
with no outward supernatural forces but the impending
sense of doom or insanity. Others like this include
the River" in which a boater gets frightened
when he is stranded because his boat's anchor gets stuck
in the river. Later when some fishermen rescue him they
find the corpse of a dead woman with a stone tied around
her neck resting on the anchor.
homage to Poe, one of de Maupassant's prime influences,
Spasm" recounts a premature burial. A man meets
a father and daughter at a health spa. The father tells
of the daughter's harrowing experience. The girl who
suffers from nerves was found in a stupor and thought
dead and was buried. She awoke when a grave robber cut
off her finger to steal a ring. When she gets home she
recognizes the robber as her father's servant, Prosper.
The twist with the servant is typical of de Maupassant's
Mother of Monsters" is probably de Maupassant's
most revolting story. A tourist who visits his friend
in a small country town is taken to see the "Mother
of Monsters", and then explains her story. Once
a peasant girl who had become pregnant, she hid her
condition by wearing a painful girdle. The child that
was born was a hopeless freak and shamed the mother
until some circus people offered her money for it. Getting
a cash amount as well as an annual stipend, the woman
went into production of monsters, having eleven that
gave her a good income. Not happy to end the story there,
de Maupassant adds a coda to the tale, a condemnation
of women's fashions, with a coquettish beauty in a saloon
whose children are hunched-back because she insists
on being trim.
or "Semillante" shows de Maupassant's interest
with the Corsican blood-feud. One of three stories using
the idea, "Vendetta" is perhaps the best.
The Widow Saverini swears a vendetta against Nicolas
Ravolati, who killed her only son, Antoine. To achieve
this she trains the family dog, a loving creature named
Semillante, to attack a scarecrow with meat hidden in
it. The widow disguises herself as a beggar then takes
the dog to Longosardo, where the murderer is hiding.
The dog tears the man's throat out in his home and the
woman and dog escape undetected.
White Wolf" or "The
Wolf" has suggestion of lycanthropy but is
not a supernatural story, but, like "Vendetta",
one of human obsession with revenge. The Marquis d'Arville
explains why he does not hunt. Two of his ancestor,
Francis and John, were avid hunters. When a gigantic
wolf started preying upon their lands, they set out
to kill the monster. After an attack on the Marquis'
own estate, the two men track the wolf down. In the
hunt, John is killed. Francis traps and then kills the
wolf, showing it to his dead brother. Francis believes,
his brother would have died happy if only he had seen
the wolf killed.
rest, and perhaps the best of de Maupassant's works
are the actual supernatural tales. De Maupassant is
careful, even in these stories, to keep the monsters
hidden, either by only suggesting what has happened,
leaving the rest to the reader, or by weakly explaining
them as the symptoms of insanity.
Illustrated #21 (1944)
Hand" or "The Englishman" is one
of two stories about severed killer hands, an idea which
has become a cliche in horror fiction, in films like
The Hand with Michael Caine. In de Maupassant's
tale, Judge Bermutier tells of a strange event. An Englishman,
Sir John Rowell, living in Corsica keeps a severed hand
chained to the wall and loaded guns in every room. Later
Rowell is found strangled and the chained hand is gone.
The hand appears once again on the dead man's grave.
Flayed Hand" is preferred as the better tale
by anthologist, Marvin Kaye, perhaps because of its
more mysterious ending. A man's friend buys a severed
hand at an auction. The jolly friend attaches it to
his bell-rope, but the landlord complains. Placing it
inside his room, the friend is found the next day strangled
and the hand missing. He survives but is driven insane.
He dies later, seeing phantom hands. The narrator finds
the answer to the mystery when he returns home and a
coffin is opened and a handless but vicious-looking
skeleton is discovered.
Spectre" or "The Apparition" is de
Maupassant's only true ghost story, reminiscent of the
works of Edith Wharton. A man is asked by a friend to
enter the house of his dead wife to retrieve some papers.
While doing this a spectral woman appears asking to
have her hair combed. The man obliges despite the coldness
of her body. The woman leaves through a door that is
firmly locked. When the man returns to his friend he
can not be found. The husband of the dead woman disappears
It a Dream?", in typical de Maupassant fashion,
doesn't strive to terrify--though the scene in which
the dead rise is well done--but to show the hypocrisy
of humanity. A man's becomes bereaved when his lover
dies. He steals into a graveyard to sleep on the woman's
grave, only to find all the dead rising, crossing off
the writing on their tombstones and replacing it with
truthful statements. Finding his lover's stone, he sees
it no longer reads, "She loved, was loved, and
died." but "Having gone out in the rain one
day, in order to deceive her lover, she caught cold
Ward's illustrations for "The Horla"
Maupassant's masterpiece is "The
Horla"(1886). Of all the stories he wrote this
single tale is most often anthologized and was even
filmed, though under the title of a different story,
in MGM's Diary of a Mad Man (1963) with Vincent
Price. H. P. Lovecraft felt of stories describing alien
possession "this tense narrative is perhaps without
peer in its particular department."
than most of de Maupassant stories, "The Horla"
uses the same diary format that the author used to effect
in "The Diary of a Mad Man". The journal describes
the day to day life of a man who feels he is being fed
upon by some invisible thing that drains him of his
essence, leaving him sick and weak. At first he puts
the feeling off as nonsense but evidence begins to mount
when he leaves for a holiday and feels better and then
when he notices liquids, like the glass of water he
keeps at his bedside, disappear. Eventually, the narrator
witnesses the water being drunk as well as an amorphous
cloud that passes between him and his mirror. The man
is driven toward madness and burns his home down. He
wonders if he has actually trapped and killed it. If
not, he will commit suicide.
Horla" stands at the top of de Maupassant's list
of achievements both for its claustrophobic and subtle
feel but more so because it encapsulates everything
the writer has written on madness, his tour de force
on a subject of which he had a personal knowledge and
Maupassant, Guy. Complete Short Stories of Guy De
Kaye, Marvin. Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural.
New York: Doubleday, 1985.
H. P. H. P. Lovecraft's Book of Horror. Ed: Stephen
Jones & Dave Carson. London: Robinson Publishing,
Michael. The Monster Book of Monsters. New York:
Bonanza Books, 1988.
Bill. Werewolf. New York: Arbor House, 1979.