By Trevor A Le V Harris
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Additional info for Maupassant in the Hall of Mirrors: Ironies of Repetition in the Work of Guy de Maupassant
I, 314). Maupassant's nostalgia, the way in which he emphasises the 'invincible besoin de reve' (i, 313) as a general human characteristic, might easily be taken as the expression of a somewhat banal truism, although its banality would have appeared less obvious to his contemporary reader than to a modern one. And yet, there is dearly a sense in which Maupassant is writing here within the context of what one might call the negative phase of positivism, a position of serious doubt with regard to the value of material progress.
Anticipating theorists such as Gustave Le Bon and Gabriel Tarde, Maupassant perceives how the collectivity functions independently of the individuals which compose it. The collective body, he implies, is not simply the sum of its constituent elements, but something quite different. Turning again to France's legislative body by way of example, he claims that it shows how a structure operates to the detriment of all personal idiosyncrasies. It is the position which one occupies within the structure, the role one plays, rather than one's individual characteristics, which are most important.
In the case of Comudet, we 'know' him only by a process of inference. Everything is achieved through description of the surface and the assumptions the reader makes about those superficial details. Maupassant, in a sense, seems to invert the old adage and suggests that l'habit fait le moine. It is this technique, no doubt, which induces Henry James, despite his enthusiasm for Maupassant' s work, to suggest that 'Maupassant has simply skipped the whole reflective part of his men and women - that reflective part which governs conduct and produces character'.