“How strange and unpredictable life is! How little there is between happiness and misery,” remarks Madame Loisel, the tragic heroine of Guy de Maupassant’s masterful short story “The Necklace.” In this—perhaps trite—line by Maupassant, the rich legacy left by French writers is subtlety revealed. If the British gave us valuable moral lessons, and the Russians instructed us to deconstruct the human soul, what did the French teach us? Simple: to live. Ardently, eloquently, poetically. Never passively. The French taught us to live, perhaps en rose, perhaps en blanc et bleue, but live colorfully nonetheless. In honor of Bastille Day, here are my favorite French stories about living with desire.
Is there an American novel that invites more haters than To Kill a Mockingbird? Admit it: you judge someone who names it as his or her favorite novel of all time. If something is wildly beloved by the masses, it must be middle-brow, sentimental crap at best, right? That was my official position on Harper Lee’s classic bestseller for many years—until recently, when a spunky group of students reminded me of its greatness.
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