The Hand – Maupassant (A Review)
December 14, 2014Posted by on
The short story ‘La Main d’écorchée‘ (The Flayed Hand) by Guy de Maupassant was initially published by L’Almanach lorrain de Pont-à-Mousson in 1875, under the pseudonym of Joseph Prunier. Some eight years later Maupassant reworked ‘La Main d’écorchée’ and published it simply as ‘La Main’ or ‘The Hand’. Maupassant claimed that in his teens he was shown a mummified hand by the poet Algernon Swinburne, this incident being interpreted as the inspiration for his earlier short story ‘La Main Ecorchée’.
In 1882 Maupassant wrote a story of his meeting with Swinburne in The Englishman of Etretat. In the latter story Maupassant claims that he returned to the house some two years later, only to find it shut up and the tenants gone. As the furniture was being sold he wrote that he bought that frightful flayed hand as a souvenir, but perhaps that – among other elements of the story – was simply poetic licence on Maupassant’s part.
While ‘The Englishman of Etretat’ gives Maupassant a source for his story ‘La Main d’écorchée’, particularly as the owner of the flayed hand in ‘La Main’ is an Englishman, perhaps some credit should go to the works of Gérard de Nerval. Nerval had first published La Main de Gloire (Histoire macaronique) in 1832, which was republished in 1852 as ‘La Main Enchantée (Histoire macaronique)’.
By the time Maupassant had reworked ‘La Main d’écorchée’ as ‘La Main’ in 1883, it seems reasonable to assume that he would be familiar with both versions of Nerval’s story. Also, that he would be aware of ‘La Main de Gloire’, or The Hand Of Glory, as it was a term used throughout Europe relating to the once common practice of severing a criminal’s hand.
His story ‘The Hand’ clearly demonstrates Maupassant’s literary genius which – when taken together with his story ‘The Englishman of Etretat’ – demonstrates the added genius of his being able to create stories whereby the reader is often unable to distinguish fact from fiction. Maupassant, in successfully writing fictional short story versions of his own life, created fictitious inspirational sources for many of his short stories.