The Lancer’s Wife sees a small band of French soldiers, after a French defeat, living under Swiss protection. Their captain is furious at being removed from the action, and takes a handful of his men, including our narrator, secretly back into France to fight guerrilla-style. This tiny group, joined by the captain’s loyal and martial wife, encounters a tiny Prussian group of fighters, which includes the Prussian lancer’s wife as well. Without spoilers, I shall say that the two wives come face to face, and the issue is one of honor. If the qualities and moral of this story are a little idealistic, I am happy to be forgiving, because it’s well done and a joy to read.
In Two Friends, two Frenchmen who have enjoyed fishing together in the past, but who are now living under Prussian occupation, endeavor to go fishing once again, and are captured by the enemy. Again there is a question of honor. Again high standards are met, and I am left, after these two stories, with a feeling of nostalgia for the fine men and women of a time gone by. These are lofty emotions to be evoked by stories about war; but Maupassant renders the setting so beautifully that, again, I can only marvel at the craft.
I believe Boule de Suif is more or less accepted as his finest story, and it’s true that these, while impressive, were shorter and less impactful. However, they were easy to lose myself in. This man is a master of the short story.