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Identity Trouble

Fragmentation and Disillusionment in the Works of Guy de Maupassant


Eva Yampolsky

In this book, Eva Yampolsky explores the questions of identity, illusion and suicide in the works of Guy de Maupassant. Utilizing a historical context which stimulated numerous social, technological and scientific transformations and developments during the 19th century, Dr. Yampolsky identifies two defining aims.

Firstly, she examines the various figures of the double, such as visual representations of the subject through painting, mirror reflection, generational proximity and resemblance, and the relation between self-perception and social norms. She seeks to show the complex and often conflicting relation between the individual and society, and more specifically the attempts and frequent failures to manipulate, control and embody a unique definition of self. This divergence between the social norms, such as class, profession, gender and honor, and the characters’ notion of self is what drives the narrative.

Secondly, Eva Yampolsky analyzes the consequent psychological turmoil, madness and even suicide of many Maupassantian characters. This impossible task of embodying an identity that is sole and unique, as it is lived and perceived by the subject and others, in most short stories and novels leads to the characters’ disillusionment and, in a great number of texts, violence or suicide.

This book draws on the social, political and economic revolutions that redefined the individual. New forms of visual representation and communication, namely with the invention of photography and the developments of the press, bring forth questions of authenticity, doubling, and a new distinction between private and public spheres. Finally, the birth of psychiatry at the turn of the 19th century and the emergence of new disciplines, such as sociology and psychoanalysis, inscribe passions, illusions and suicide in new discursive and disciplinary frameworks. These transformations and developments are pervasive and, in many cases, explicit in Maupassant’s work, influences that have aided and nourished the literary analysis of his texts.

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Chapter 4. Horlamil: A Figure of the Social Mass


·4·Horlamil: A Figure of the Social Mass

1. The evolution of the Horla

In Maupassant’s large body of work, the short story of “Le Horla” has been extensively studied by literary critics, often considered as a text belonging to the fantastical genre. Unlike the majority of his works, where the reader gets a glimpse into the often uneventful life of a character, in this text, the main character describes his troubling confrontation with an invisible being, whose presence haunts and terrorizes him. The Horla is described in terms of negation or absence in relation to its surroundings, a void that serves as proof of its existence. The character adopts the positivist viewpoint of his time, meticulously analyzing and recording the Horla’s appearances. The main character himself relates the Horla to the long tradition of fantastical beings, such as gnomes and monsters, while at the same time proposing rational explanations for beliefs in such beings.1 According to the narrator, the belief in the existence of fantastical beings serves as justification for various mysterious occurrences not yet understood by man.

According to Todorov’s definition of fantastical literature, which is anchored an underlying hesitation between the natural and the supernatural←95 | 96→ explanations for strange occurrences,2 the figure of the Horla remains ambiguous, between the character’s madness that gives “form” to an apparent threat and the possibility that a new being in the evolutionary progression has indeed come to take man’s place. By contrast, a...

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