Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant

on one level, an account of a journey affected by “adverse weather conditions” – and as such is just the thing to have handy on any peregrination over the coming weeks. But of course, it encompasses so much more than this: the nature of generosity; the respective psychologies of conquered and conqueror; notions of sexual propriety; and why it’s not always a good idea to pack a really large picnic before getting in a stage coach with a group of strangers.

The setting is northern France during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. The Prussian army has just captured Rouen. When a group of the town’s most prosperous citizens secure permission to travel to the port of Le Havre to conduct business, they are outraged to find themselves sharing the coach with a plump prostitute named Boule de Suif.They soon have cause to feel grateful to her, though: when a snow storm delays their progress, she produces an enormous hamper of delicious food, which she unthinkingly shares with them. (None of the others had the foresight to pack anything.) At this point they deign to talk to her. That night, they all stop over at a hotel presided over by a Prussian captain, who, next day, forbids them to continue. The reason soon becomes apparent: Boule de Suif has refused to sleep with him, and his revenge is to keep them all cooped up until she does.


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