Ignited Curiosity and Failed Dreams: Nineteenth-Century Masculine Fears of Females in Guy de Maupassant's 'Une Aventure Parisienne'and 'Le Signe'

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Virginia Tech

Guy de Maupassant's short stories "Une Aventure Parisienne" and "Le Signe" tell the tales of two female protagonists caught by curiosity. In "Une Aventure Parisienne," a notary's wife (the petite provinciale) leaves her home and ventures to Paris in search of an affair with a celebrity. After finding one and sleeping with him, the petite provinciale becomes disillusioned with her fantasy: she returns home deflated from the realization that her celebrity snores and drools just as her husband does. The high-society protagonist in "Le Signe," Madame de Grangerie, is also disenchanted with her interest in imitating the gesture of a prostitute she notices across the street. When faced with a male client she frantically gives in to what she has offered. Needing to reaffirm her identity as an "honnête femme," she solicits advice from her friend on what to do if the client returns. While both protagonists do not face legal punishment for their affairs, they do confront personal consequences. The petite provinciale's dreams about celebrities burst and Madame de Grangerie's reputation appears at risk. Maupassant not only comments on feminine curiosity and adultery, but also on the internal effects such actions could potentially have on women of his time. In this thesis I argue that even though both protagonists act on their curiosities and flirt with private/public boundaries, the petite provinciale and Madame de Grangerie are ultimately presented through masculinized lenses. I also show how discursive nineteenth-century traditions of a limited view of female sexuality are reconstructed in Maupassant's tales.

adultery, masculine authority, feminine curiosity, private/public space, nineteenth-century ideology