by Guy de Maupassant
Analysis: Writing Style
Unadorned, Economical, Effortless, and Elegant
What's amazing about Maupassant's writing is how economical it is –he does a lot with only a little bit of space. His control over timing and pacing is incredible. Think about the scope of the story. It begins with an introduction to Mathilde that makes us feel like we know her intimately in a matter of sentences. Then there's the invitation – the dress-necklace-ball sequence. Then we see the losing the necklace – the sequence of searching for it, not finding it, and buying a new one. Next is the ten long years of poverty and hard living which Mme. and M. Loisel must confront. Finally, there's the conclusion on the Champs Elysées. That's a ton to cover in only five or six pages, and Maupassant does it effortlessly. His writing never feels strained or rushed, or incomplete, even though the story's practically short enough to be its own summary. How does Maupassant do it? It all comes down to simplicity, and knowing how to make all these details into a coherent whole.
One trick Maupassant uses is writing lots of really short paragraphs; this technique keeps the story moving at a clip. Often the paragraphs are little more than a single, simple sentence (the sentences are usually short too). Check out this passage describing the day after the Loisels discover they've lost the necklace:
Her husband came back about seven o'clock. He had found nothing.
Then he went to police headquarters, to the newspapers to offer a reward, to the cab company; he did everything, in fact, that a trace of hope could urge him to.
She waited all day, in the same dazed state in face of this horrible disaster.
Loisel came back in the evening, with his face worn and white; he had discovered nothing. (80-83)
That's a whole day, with two characters and lots of scene changes, caught in only a few lines of text. Note that there's barely any description in this passage, a fact highlighted by the distinct lack of adjectives, adverbs, and descriptive language. It just says what it needs to. And it reads like a charm. Even though it moves us along at a fast pace, it flows. Maupassant knows exactly what he needs to put in a passage to make it work, and uses no more.
When he does write longer paragraphs, Maupassant's got another notable technique. One after another, he'll string together sentences that begin with the same word and have the same basic structure. There are a lot of "She did this…She did this…She did this…" paragraphs (he's unusually fond of pronouns, it seems). As in:
She learned the rough work of the household, the odious labors of the kitchen. She washed the dishes, wearing out her pink nails on the greasy pots and the bottoms of the pans. She washed the dirty linen, the shirts and the towels, which she dried on a rope; she carried down the garbage to the street every morning, and she carried up the water, pausing for breath on every floor. And, dressed like a woman of the people, she went to the fruiterer, the grocer, the butcher, a basket on her arm, bargaining, insulted, fighting for her wretched money, sou by sou. (99)
If you think about it, starting every sentence with "she learned" or "she washed" seems almost like an elementary and basic writing technique. If you used this technique in an essay, your teacher would probably scold you for "lack of variety" in sentence structure. Yet Maupassant makes it work. When he mixes things up ever so slightly in that last sentence, by starting with the "And, dressed…" phrase before returning to "she went," it's just enough to keep things interesting, and bring a sense of closure to the paragraph. And all the repetition just feels ordered, and neat. In Maupassant's hands, simplicity becomes elegance.