Date Read: 11 February 2013
Available Online?: YES
Briefly: Dr. Bonnet relates the tragic story of Bertha, a mentally deficient woman whom he worked with to establish some degree of cognitive understanding.
Afterthoughts: Something of a standard tale from Maupassant in which he plays around with the theme of classical conditioning (you know, very much in the same vein as Pavlov and his dog, but with a human replacing the dog). Reading Bertha I did wonder if Maupassant had an interest in the subject, or perhaps that the science of conditioned response was very much in vogue at a time when he penned this story. Ivan Pavlov for one was certainly around at the same time as Maupassant (Pavlov was born a year earlier, in 1849), but his famous experiments were, I think, conducted long after Maupassant’s death in 1893.
Whatever his reasons for penning Bertha, Maupassant certainly paints a mournful and melancholic picture. It’s not his most triumphant story by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely readable.
Notable Quote: “One day I put two plates before her, one of soup, and the other of very sweet vanilla cream. I made her taste each of them successively, and then I let her choose for herself, and she ate the plate of cream. In a short time I made her very greedy, so greedy that it appeared as if the only idea she had in her head was the desire for eating.”
*Story read as part of my Devouring De Maupassant reading challenge.