Evidence of France’s literary superiority
|Guy de Maupassant|
In terms of big Panthéon-worthy names, the starting five, if you will, includes exceptional selections by Honoré de Balzac (“The Elixir of Life”), Emile Zola (“Jean Gourdon’s Four Days”), and Alexandre Dumas (“Solange”). Victor Hugo’s “A Fight with a Cannon” is actually an excerpt from his novel Ninety-Three, but the lifted scene stands alone as compelling short story. Voltaire’s novella Zadig is also reproduced in its entirety. Though a worthy work, having been published in 1747 it does suffer a bit from its extreme antiquity.
For the most part the second-string players, those who deserve more fame than they presently enjoy, are also represented by admirable offerings. Guy de Maupassant, a true master of the short story, delivers likely the book’s best selection, “Abandoned,” in which a married woman and her former lover visit the love child they spawned 40 years before. “A Piece of Bread” by François Coppée, another greatly underrated storyteller, is a touching tale of a friendship between two soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War. Alphonse Daudet’s excellent entry, “The Last Lesson,” is a moving tale of the last French-language class taught at an Alsatian school before the Prussian takeover. Alfred de Musset’s “Croisilles” is an enjoyable lighthearted romance written in a style reminiscent of Balzac. Another reasonably well-known storyteller, Prosper Mérimée, is less successful with “Mateo Falcone,” perhaps his best-known story but certainly not his best.
The remaining baker’s dozen of authors bear names unlikely to ring a bell with most 21st-century readers. With the exception of one or two disappointments, however, such as A. Chenevière’s African colonial tale “Tonton” and Clémence Robert’s pulpy military adventure “Baron de Trenck,” the quality of these lesser-knowns’ selections is quite good and in some cases truly pleasant surprises. Henry Murger’s “The Passage of the Red Sea,” a delightfully wry satire of the art establishment, is right up there among the volume’s best selections. Offerings by Paul de Kock, Erckmann-Chatrian, René Bazin, Marcel Prevost, and Alain René Le Sage are also impressive works.
For lovers of classic literature, the International Short Stories series is pretty good overall, but the French volume is clearly the one book of the three that definitely deserves a download. Not every story included is a masterpiece, but the goods far outweigh the bads.
Stories in this collection
A Piece of Bread by François Coppée
The Elixir of Life by Honoré de Balzac
The Age for Love by Paul Bourget
Mateo Falcone by Prosper Mérimée
The Mirror by Catulle Mendes
My Nephew Joseph by Ludovic Halevy
A Forest Betrothal by Erckmann-Chatrian
Zadig the Babylonian by François Marie Arouet de Voltaire
Abandoned by Guy de Maupassant
The Guilty Secret by Paul de Kock
Jean Monette by Eugene François Vidocq
Solange by Alexandre Dumas
The Birds in the Letter-Box by René Bazin
Jean Gourdon’s Four Days by Émile Zola
Baron de Trenck by Clémence Robert
The Passage of the Red Sea by Henry Murger
The Woman and the Cat by Marcel Prevost
Gil Blas and Dr. Sangrado by Alain René Le Sage
A Fight with a Cannon by Victor Hugo
Tonton by A. Chenevière
The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet
Croisilles by Alfred de Musset
The Vase of Clay by Jean Aicard
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