“A Night in Paris (A nightmare)” by Guy de Maupassant

Paris la nuit (1889) by Charles Courtney Curran

You know the deflating experience of picking up a book you loved the first time around, only to find it disappointing years later? The sentences are no longer as beautifully written as you recalled, the atmosphere no longer as masterful, and worst of all, your happy memories are marred.

Being in the middle of two chunky reads (one an epic trilogy and the other a fat novel), I was desperate for a short story gulp. I didn’t even need to shop through my bookshelves. I knew what I wanted: “A Night in Paris (A nightmare)” by Guy de Maupassant, a creepy little tale of never-ending night narrated by a man slowly losing it. The short left an indelible mark on me because it felt like a travel guide of Paris written by someone deranged. After I finished the story, I dreamed of going to Paris and visiting its landmarks. An odd reaction from a story meant to scare, perhaps.

Rereading the story was a bit of a letdown. I remember the story being full of lyricisms as the unnamed narrator flits in fear from one Parisian monument to another. But Maupassant’s style is simple and straightforward. Poetic flourishes aren’t part of his approach. Which beggars the question: did my memory embellish the story’s beauty? Not that there weren’t any lovely sentences in “A Night in Paris (A nightmare).” Here’s an example:

And the electric-light globes – pale yet dazzling moons, moon-eggs fallen from heaven, living monster-pearls – made the thin flames of ugly, dirty gaslight with their garlands of coloured glass pale into insignificance beneath their mother-of-pearl radiance, mysterious and regal.

I liked that. But there weren’t many more sentences with that feel.

When I first read “A Night in Paris (A nightmare)” years ago, I was convinced that I could take the story with me to Paris and I could use it as a rough map of famous landmarks as the narrator described stumbling from the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe to the Bois de Boulogne to the Place de la Bastille. But this reread, I felt like Maupassant was just name-dropping these places. There were no description of how this man got from point A to point B. Which is fine, because he is descending towards madness, but that wasn’t how I remembered this story. My memory distinctly remembered a travel guide feel from “A Night in Paris (A Nightmare).”

“A Night in Paris (A nightmare)” is included in Tales of Supernatural Terror, a Maupassant short story collection selected and translated by Arnold Kellett. It’s exactly as it says on the tin. It brought “together for the first time Maupassant’s stories concerning the supernatural” when it was first published in 1972. Now out-of-print, I thought I had found a treasure when I stumbled upon it in a messy, musty secondhand bookshop in Jakarta for 5000 rupiahs (about 40 cents today). How happy I was when I stormed through the collection shortly after! The stories were fabulous horror gems. This book was my first Maupassant and I graduated to his more iconic stories “Boule de Suif,” “Mademoiselle Fifi,” and of course, “The Necklace” soon after.

I wonder if it is time for me to reread the collection as a whole to see if I still found it as compelling as I did years ago. My edition includes “The Horla,” which is agreed by critics to be Maupassant’s most significant contribution to the supernatural horror genre. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was about. Which is always a bad sign.

Let me know if you’ve ever had your memory play tricks on you when rereading. By which I mean, you start to remember details that aren’t part of the book or story you are rereading.

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8 thoughts on ““A Night in Paris (A nightmare)” by Guy de Maupassant

  1. I have done this a couple of times, it makes me think maybe I should’ve just left the the book alone and stayed with my original thoughts. However, I think rereading a book can also bring other things to light that you didn’t understand the first time around. It really all depends on what book it is and how long ago you had read it.

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    1. It’s 50-50, isn’t it? You can get rewarded with a richer reading experience or you can get so let down.

      “It really all depends on what book it is and how long ago you had read it.” — Good point! I read this book years ago, which may have something to do with my disappointment. I still want to reread the whole book because maybe this time my favorite story will change. My to-be-read pile of books is already enormous though…

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  2. I hate when that happens! Usually, I find a fresh nuance in a book I have dearly loved, but when I find disappointment it is a deep and lasting one. That happened last year when a fellow blogger and I decided to revisit The Thorn Birds. I wish I had let the memory lie untouched from my twenties. I have never read Maupassant (embarrassingly), but perhaps I can remedy that with the Paris in July challenge this summer. As for the Japanese Literature Challenge, I’m SO glad you’re in!

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    1. Hello, my apologies for replying so late. I have been MIA from this blog for more than a month now and that really needs to change.

      Thanks for your comment! I am currently reading The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima so my first review for the Japanese Literature Challenge should be up soon. Thankfully, The Sound of Waves is quite a short book.

      Thanks YOU for hosting the Japanese Literature Challenge!

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      1. You left a comment about “being late” in reading Japanese lit, for which there is no such thing! I, myself, have neglected Japanese Literature for Spanish Lit Month in July and now I’m reading the Man Booker prize long list. But, we have until January 31, so no worries!

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  3. I read it for the first time just now. My class is Magical Realism in Film and Literature and I have got to say, I have seen the “never-ending nightmare” trope a lot as an English major, but I did enjoy this story for what it was. I think the main appeal to the story is that kind of feeling of being in a true nightmare. You mention that the author does not describe how the narrator got from A to B but I think that just adds to the nightmarish illusion. In a nightmare, in a dream in general, do we truly know how we are getting from each place or scene?

    In my spare time, I reread a lot of fanfiction (don’t judge me), and I find myself confusing the events in those with the events that are really from the original work. Definitely makes it difficult when I am retelling somebody the details haha. Great post, really helped me with some questions on my homework.

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    1. Hello there, thanks for the lovely, thoughtful comment. You bring up a fair point, it is a story meant to scare. I had been convinced going into my second reading that the story had a “deranged travel guide” vibe that I was actually upset when reality didn’t match up with faulty memory.

      I find it interesting that this story was used to instruct a Magical Realism class. Maupassant is more known to be a realist/naturalist writer. What else did you read in class?

      Oh, don’t worry. I should be past the age for fanfiction (I’m closer to late twenties than teen girl), I have a B.A. in English, and I know most fics are deeply flawed but I can’t help it. Rereading fics makes me warm inside.

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      1. We have read Joseph LeFanu, a few Edgar Allen Poe stories, Ambrose Bierce, Thomas Mann, D. H. Lawrence, even did a Lewis Caroll story. Lot of the stories we read have a piece of supernatural air to them. But we also watch films. The Red Violin, Pan’s Labyrinth, Like Water For Chocolate. Yeah haha. I think I enjoy our movies more than the literature, some of it is hard to sit down and read.

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