Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Pierre and Jean by Guy de Maupassant (3.5/5)

First published: 1887
Original title: Pierre et Jean
Original language: French
Translation to English by: Clara Bell, 2006

Page count: 114
The back says: A vague jealousy, one of those dormant jealousies which grow up between brothers or sisters and slowly ripen till they burst, on the occasion of a marriage perhaps, or of some good fortune happening to one of them, kept them on the alert in a sort of brotherly and non-aggressive animosity. They were fond of each other, it is true, but they watched each other. Pierre, five years old when Jean was born, had looked with the eyes of a little petted animal at that other little animal which had suddenly come to lie in his father's and mother's arms and to be loved and fondled by them. Jean, from his birth, had always been a pattern of sweetness, gentleness, and good temper, and Pierre had by degrees begun to chafe at ever-lastingly hearing the praises of this great lad, whose sweetness in his eyes was indolence, whose gentleness was stupidity, and whose kindliness was blindness. His parents, whose dream for their sons was some respectable and undistinguished calling, blamed him for so often changing his mind, for his fits of enthusiasm, his abortive beginnings, and all his ineffectual impulses towards generous ideas and the liberal professions. Since he had grown to manhood they no longer said in so many words: "Look at Jean and follow his example," but every time he heard them say "Jean did this - Jean does that," he understood their meaning and the hint the words conveyed.

I say: After having read Bel Ami I somehow pictured de Maupassant as a comedic writer and thus expected this to be a funny read.

It was not.

And even though I was in the mood for humour, this was no disappointment because I love the way he tells the story; the ease with which the narrator moves between the characters in a familiar and nonintrusive way. Even when they, mostly Pierre, are acting and thinking in ways we disapprove of, we never fault the narrator his prose, and his familiarity gives the impression of an old friend telling a story of two brothers.

I really liked that.

In a way, I think anyone who has a sibling can relate to either Pierre or Jean; and when the latter inherits a large sum of money from a deceased friend of the family, most of us can understand and empathise with Pierre going through the motions.

Up to a certain point.

There comes a time when Pierre’s long held jealousy reaches its peak and he acts in ways I may have understood, but did not empathise with. However, it was intriguing to follow him on this path of discovery and interesting to see just how far he was willing to take his animosity and who he was willing to hurt in the process.

Although there was little (if any, I can’t remember) humour in this, I look forward to reading more from de Maupassant. 

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