This week I’ve been reading a book, ambitiously titled, The Greatest French Short Stories. While the greatness of a few stories is arguable, some of them are really good. I would definitely recommend this collection to all fellow Francophiles. Here are two of my absolute favourite stories from the book.
Charity (La Charite) by Charles-Louis Philippe
Old Balthazar is a poor but hardworking man who makes his living by wandering from village to village, selling writing paper. He is disadvantaged by his luxuriant, red beard that covers his entire face and gives him a shifty look. Everyone is wary of him, he has to walk for miles every day in the hot sun and all his labours bring him barely enough money to keep body and soul together. In short, life is hard for poor, old Balthazar. Until one day a kindly old lady gives him some extra money; and life becomes much harder.
I thought I knew where this was headed but I was really tickled to see where it actually went. Written with such understated humour and irony, this was an expertly crafted story. The two characters are well drawn and the ending somehow manages to be, both, poignant and hilarious at the same time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this online but I urge you to seek it out and read it.
Putois by Anatole France
Putois had a shifty look about him, squinting eyes and rimless ears. He was unusually strong and could even bend a five-franc piece between his thumb and first finger. A gardener by profession, Putois had gone bad and taken to harassing the village folk. He stole their fruits and cutlery, he seduced their women and foiled the constabulary. He could leap over great distances so that one moment he was before you and the very next moment he was somewhere else entirely. However, the most remarkable thing about Putois was that he didn’t actually exist.
Putois was born as a lie told by a woman to get out of an undesirable dinner invitation. She could never have imagined the legendary figure he would grow into until one day she almost begins to believe in the lie herself.
The life story of Putois is a fascinating tale of a lie growing all out of proportion and assuming a life of its own. France is hilarious and thought provoking in equal measure without ever straying into the absurd. Do read and enjoy this story HERE.