The following review was contributed by: NORM GOLDMAN EDITOR OF BOOKPLEASURES
Considered to be one of France’s greatest short story writers, Guy de Maupassant had written over three hundred short stories, six novels, three travel books, and one volume of verse, during a period of ten years of his forty-three year lifespan. Author and lecturer, Mark Scott, is a specialist in Russian literature, and he has been very much intrigued with Maupassant’s profound influence over such Russian literary giants as Bunin, Chekhov, Turgenev and Gorky. This probably explains his most recent literary foray, The Artist's Model and Other Love Stories, wherein he shares with the English-speaking world eighteen of Maupassant’s short story gems.
As a translator “par excellence,” Scott’s talents are very much in evidence in his appreciation of the thoughts and images of this French literary icon. Moreover, Scott effectively conveys to the reader Maupassant’s uncanny ability to write in a highly controlled style devoid of superfluous words.
It is to be noted that a good translator is not only one who is talented with languages, but also one who knows how to competently translate the theme or the spirit of the literary works. In order to accomplish this feat the translator must have an excellent grasp of the sense of the subject and its nuances, and here is where Scott’s translations shine.
The stories included in the collection revolve around human behavior, its frailties, and its hidden sides that perhaps many people would think best unmentioned. Such themes of illicit seduction, sexual molestation of children, psychology of the alcoholic, and premeditated murder of children, are topics that are difficult enough to write and read about, let alone translate them. However, as pointed out in the introduction to the book, “according to Maupassant, a modern novel aims not at telling a story or entertaining us or touching our hearts but at forcing us to think and understand the deeper, hidden meaning of events."" It is this deeper meaning that prevails in the minds of the readers as they complete one story and go onto the next.
For the most part, the stories are narrated in the first person, and Maupassant refrains from taking sides pertaining to the behavior or misbehavior of his characters. This is left up to the reader to think about and come to his or her own conclusions. Moreover, as Scott points out, many of the themes would probably be very familiar to fans of Russian literature such as the infanticide in Maupassant’s “The Confessions” that resembles Tolstoy’s play The Power of Darkness. However, as mentioned in the introduction, similarities run much deeper particularly the theme of the close interrelationship between love and death. Bunin’s Galya Ganskaya, who Scott has translated in his book, Wolves and Other Love Stories, is, as he mentions, an obvious variation of Maupassant’s The Artist’s Model.
Not all of the stories are sad or tragic, and Maupassant does leave some room for the comical. A good example is the story entitled “The Nod,” wherein the Baroness de Grangerie is tempted to imitate her neighbor who sits in front of her window and seduces men into having sex with her. After a little practice in the mannerisms of seduction, the Baroness succeeds in enticing a young blond man. However, she quickly realizes she has gone too far and insists he leave her home. The young man refuses and she finally consents to his advances in order to get rid of him before her husband returns. The next day, she recounts her dilemma to her friend, the Marquise de Rennedon and asks what to do if the young man returned. She is advised to call the police and sue for damages. “Ah! Concerning those damages…there’s one thing that’s really stopping me …it really is… He left…two louis…on the mantel…for me. Two louis? Yes. That’s all. Yes. But that’s hardly anything. I’d really be humiliated. I would. Well?” Well what should I do with the money? The Marquise hesitated a few seconds, then answered seriously, my dear…you should buy…you should buy … a small gift for your husband. That’s only proper.”
It is quite interesting to hear what Scott had to say when I asked him why he translated these stories and his reply was as follows: “This book is not going to be a best seller, but I did it because I had been using excerpts from some of these stories in my college classes. It also has the rather unusual ""Russian twist"" to it--in Russian literature classes in the US, professors only casually remark that Russian writers were influenced by Maupassant, but they seldom if ever discuss this influence in any great detail.”