Boule de Suif


Guy de Maupassant

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Boule de Suif Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Guy de Maupassant's Boule de Suif. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Guy de Maupassant

In 1850, Guy de Maupassant was born into a middle-class family in northern France. Although comfortable financially, his mother and his father fought often and his parents divorced when Maupassant was 11. His upbringing was primarily shaped by his mother, a highly literary woman who would read him Shakespeare and who arranged a tutor to teach him Latin, math, and grammar. After attending a religious boarding seminary which he detested (enough to purposefully get himself expelled), Maupassant became a student at a specialized secondary school in Rouen. In 1868 he met Gustave Flaubert, who would prove to be a massive literary and life influence. Two years later, he left his studies temporarily to volunteer in the Franco-Prussian war. Maupassant wrote avidly in the ‘80’s and enjoyed commercial success, but by 1890 his health had deteriorated due to the syphilis he had contracted many years earlier. Maupassant died at 43, but he was able to produce over 300 pieces of writing in his lifetime. He is often referred to as the father of the (modern) short story. “Boule de Suif” is one of his earliest published pieces.
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Historical Context of Boule de Suif

The key historical event surrounding “Boule de Suif” is the end of the Franco-Prussian War. From 1870 to 1871, France fought the German states (primarily the kingdom of Prussia) and lost, resulting in a short occupation and the solidifying of Germany as a country. Napoleon Bonaparte III was the French Emperor at the time, and his capture and subsequent death marked the end of the Second Empire of France and the beginning of the Third Republic. Despite suffering a resounding defeat, the Bonaparte name would still remain a symbol of patriotism to many French people in the years immediately following the war. Guy de Maupassant left his studies in Paris to volunteer as a soldier in 1870, and his experience explains the common theme of war in many of his writings.

Other Books Related to Boule de Suif

Closely related to “Boule de Suif” are the works of Émile Zola, particularly his novel L’Assommoir. Zola was a friend of Maupassant, and his writing shares many thematic interests with Maupassant, such as a focus on class divisions and the difficulty of upward class mobility. Maupassant’s own short story “The Necklace” is also directly linked to “Boule de Suif,” because it similarly follows a kind woman with a lower-class position and concludes with an ironic tragedy. And, of course, there is Gustave Flaubert: Maupassant’s biggest literary influence (it is common to refer to Maupassant as Flaubert’s protégé). Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, set 20 years prior to the action in “Boule de Suif,” also takes place in Rouen, Normandy. Although not a critique of the inequity of war and not as firmly condemning of the bourgeois, Flaubert’s attention to character detail and his cool, omniscient narrative style can be seen throughout the works of Maupassant.
Key Facts about Boule de Suif
  • Full Title: Boule de Suif (Ball-of-Fat)
  • When Written: 1880
  • Where Written: Paris, France
  • When Published: 1880
  • Literary Period: Realism, Naturalism
  • Genre: Short story, Naturalism
  • Setting: A carriage traveling between Rouen and La Havre, and then an inn in Tôtes
  • Climax: Ball-of-Fat (Miss Elizabeth Rousset) agrees to sleep with a cruel Prussian officer
  • Antagonist: The Prussian officer and the six well-off travelers in the carriage
  • Point of View: Omniscient third-person

Extra Credit for Boule de Suif

Lost in Translation: “Boule de Suif” has been translated into English many times and each version differs slightly, including its title. In English, the story is sometimes called “Butterball,” sometimes “Dumpling,” and sometimes the more literal “Ball-of-Fat” (or even “Ball-of-Lard”). 

Big Names: “Boule de Suif” was published in 1880 in a collection of short stories that included other prolific writers at the time, including Émile Zola and Joris-Karl Huysman.