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Our heart

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Our Heart(Notre Cœur) is the sixth and last novel by Guy de Maupassant. It was begun in May 1889. The work appeared first in the magazine Revue des Deux Mondes in May and June 1890, and as a book in June 1890, published by Paul Ollendorff. In the year of publication, 66 editions were printed.

Notre Cœur. Illustrated French Edition of 1902

Content

André Mariolle is introduced to Michèle de Burne by a friend. She is a young widow. Treated ruthlessly by her husband, his early death was a redemption for the woman, who is only 28. An elegant, beautiful woman, she takes advantage of her newfound freedom and hosts receptions in her luxurious Paris apartment, becoming a woman of the world, addicted to recognition. Famous names are among them, mainly men, musicians, writers, soon diplomats. Almost all of them had already succumbed to the de Burne’s unique charm, had already been in love with her, had gone through painful sufferings. For with none did she form a close bond. She can no longer imagine it “From a friend, a simple friend, I will not tolerate love-tyranny; it is the misfortune of cordial relations.”[1] At his first reception, André converses dazzlingly with her and – new in the round – arouses her interest. Though he tries to resist at first, she is able to arrange to see him more often, even during the day. What he wanted to avoid soon comes to pass: he has “lost himself to her with the keen eye of suspicious defiance.” At night, he writes her more passionate letters without talking about them. This amuses her.

Notre Cœur. On the top of the tower of Le Mont-Saint-Michel. Graphic by René Lelong (1871-1933)

A romantic summer excursion to Le Mont-Saint-Michel, cleverly arranged by Michèle, brings the two closer together. On the mountaintop of the old abbey, climbed in a laborious walk, André takes all his courage, wraps an arm around her and leads her along a granite path with precipitously sloping walls. André is drunk with love, even in her giddiness the experience is close to her. “He might have screamed, his nerves were so taut with irrepressible and futile expectation that he wondered what to do, for he could no longer bear the loneliness of that evening of unfulfilled happiness.” Late at night she enters his room at the inn on the island. She blows out the candles. André will never forget that day.

Back in Paris, André rents a beautiful pavilion in a garden in Auteuil for secret meetings. He lovingly sets up the ambience for them both with great taste, with flowers and anticipation, and is always there before the appointed time. Day by day his passion for Michèle becomes more consuming, he cannot wait for the hours to see her again at last, to be intimate with her, to confess to her anew each day how infinitely he loves her and that he has fallen completely for her. Yet he hears no such words from her. “She felt not the flame within her of which there is so much talk.” He feels this, realizes that he is not loved in the same measure. He reveals it to her again and again, but she professes to give him everything, all she can give. “I too am quite fond of you.” He suffers unbearably, is deathly unhappy. His pain grows stronger and stronger. After a few weeks, she stops showing up regularly, sends dispatches, cancels at the drop of a hat. But she doesn’t want a breakup. She is quite comfortable with the relationship. She “could no longer spare him, or rather the slavery to which she degraded him.” The receptions at her home, where she constantly receives anew the admiration she needs, are torture for him. She doesn’t perceive him among all the guests the way he wants her to, especially since the relationship must remain secret. André thinks of nothing but her, thoughts of her rack his brain, the tiresome questions of why she doesn’t love him and why she is so elated with all the men at the receptions. Now he’s getting jealous of the Austrian ambassador who is the talk of the town, a new torture. Will she have him next? In fact, Michèle begins an intimate friendship with the ambassador’s wife. André realizes that “all of life is made up of ‘almosts,'” that he can’t quite possess her. “Nothing is real but illusion.”

Finally, in the beginning of spring, André ends the relationship with a letter and says goodbye to her with an unknown address. In the forest of Fontainebleau he wants to gain distance, wants to get well again. He takes long walks. During the day, nature seems to give him a little peace, but the nights are even more oppressive. He can’t forget Michèle, doesn’t know what to do. Then he meets Elisabeth, she is a waitress in a country inn, a simple, pretty, erotic girl. When she is harassed by two other guests who have arrived and opens up to him in tears, he helps her. He takes her to his place, makes her his bonne in his country apartment for a good wage. She senses that he is suffering, but does not know why, is good to him, and reads him novels as he tends the bed. This distracts him. The two become intimate. Now it is Elisabeth who loves. He cannot, he is still in bondage to Michèle. So he telegraphs Michèle, wanting to know what she thinks of him. Two days later, out of the blue, she shows up at his door in the country. They talk about themselves. In this hermitage one must be quiet and quite content, she muses. “No, Madame!” Michèle again precisely analyzes that she cannot give him any more than she already did, but that when his crisis is over, he may yet be a “perfectly agreeable lover.” André agrees, not knowing what else to do. They arrange to dine at her place in Paris the next day.

Elisabeth had disappeared during Michèle’s visit. She suspects the connections. André searches for her and finds her in the evening full of sadness in a secluded church. “I already understood. You’re here because she had hurt you.” Then he takes her in his arms, earnestly assures her that she is mistaken, and promises to take her to Paris and care for her. She doubts. “I will love you as I do here,” he assures her boldly.

People

André Mariolle: Rich citizen of Paris. Romantic. Falls in love with Michèle de Burne.

Michèle de Burne: Widowed, desirable young madame of Parisian society. Maitresse of Mariolle.

Mr. de Pradon: Michèle de Burne’s father. Careful that she doesn’t compromise herself.

Massival: Well-known composer, friend of Mariolle. Belongs to the company of Michèle de Burne.

Gaston de Lamarthe: Well-known novelist. Belongs to the company of Michèle de Burne. He analyzes the “modern women” pejoratively.

Count Rudolf von Bernhaus: Austrian ambassador. The diplomat gains high reputation in the Parisian scene through a duel, also in the circle of Madame de Burne.

Princess Malten: Wife of Count Bernhaus, best friend of Michèle de Burne.

Mme de Frémine: Singer in the company of Michèle de Burne.

Prédolé: elderly, corpulent sculptor; the only man who does not fall for Michèle de Burne.

Elisabeth Ledru: Erotic young girl. Falls in love with André Mariolle.

Form

The novel is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the artistic but also luxurious, overwrought atmosphere (three-part mirror in which she can look at herself from all sides at the same time) in Madame de Brune’s salon and André Mariolle’s unexpected infatuation. The second part reflects André Mariolle’s happiness and disappointment, with the climax of happiness on the summit of Mont St Michel; then the bitter reality in the garden cottage in Auteil. The third part includes the escape to the forest of Fontainebleau, the loneliness of Marioles and the pure love idyll of Elisabeth. The monologic and dialogic elements of the novel correspond to the process of thoughts and sensations.[2]

Weltbild

Analytical novel about the constitution of the heart and about the aporias of the bourgeois heart and emotions in the established Parisian society of the Third Republic.

Reception

An early judgment of the novel was that it was “the highest manifestation of the narrator, probably his finest psychological study, with strange delicacies of analysis in detail, with an art of words that penetrates to the last ramifications of thought”.[3] For the first time, Maupassant presents in André Mariolle a romantic who suffers from reality. The hero wants to achieve love in a perfection that is impossible. This reveals his weakness. He fails. The novel discovered as a means that allowed the poet to express himself indirectly about his own soul landscape. André does not succeed in tapping into Michèle’s love, nor in opening her to his suffering. Elisabeth, as a counterpart, does not succeed in breaking through his shell with her true, pure feelings. Man thus remains – this is the author’s message – alone with his pain and happiness in the end.[3]

German editions

  • Guy de Maupassant: Our Heart. Translated by Georg Frhr. von Ompteda. Berlin 1910. (German first edition)
  • Guy de Maupassant: Our Lonely Heart. Edited and with an epilogue by Dolf Oehler. With contemporary illustrations. Insel Taschenbuch 1979, ISBN 3-458-32057-1. (Afterword: “Economics of Love: Reflections on Maupassant’s Last Novel,” pp. 235-248.)

Individual references

  1. All novel quotations from: Guy de Maupassant: Our Lonely Heart. Edited and with an afterword by Dolf Oehler. Insel Taschenbuch, 1979, ISBN 3-458-32057-1.
  2. Josef Halperin: Maupassant the Novelist. Artemis 1961, p. 146 u. 152
  3. a b Josef Halperin: Maupassant the novelist. Artemis 1961, p. 153.