Afloat

Julian Barnes writes:

One of the great examples of literary advice-giving took place in the summer of 1878. Guy de Maupassant was on the verge of becoming famous. As Flaubert’s literary nephew, and a member of the new group calling themselves Naturalists, he was already well known in Paris; three years previously, he had made his first appearance – as ‘le petit Maupassant’ – in the Goncourt Journal, delighting a company of already famous writers with a long story about Swinburne’s decadent behaviour in Etretat. He had written poems, stories and journalism, coauthored a lewd play, and was working on his first novel, Une Vie. He was socially and sexually successful, and physically very fit: the previous summer, having bought a small boat on Zola’s behalf, he had rowed it the 50 kilometres from Bezons to Zola’s house at Médan. Yet on 3 August, two days before his 28th birthday, he made the following complaints to Flaubert about life: ‘Fucking women is as monotonous as listening to male wit. I find that the news in the papers is always the same, that the vices are trivial, and that there aren’t enough different ways to compose a sentence.’

(LRB 5 November 2009)