Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant was born at Château de Miromesnil near Dieppe, Normandy, and educated in Rouen and Yvetot, likewise in that Northern French region bordering on the Channel and the North Sea. Introduced to Gustave Flaubert by his mother, an old friend of Flaubert's, the creator of "Madame Bovary" soon became Maupassant's mentor and in turn, introduced him to Émile Zola, Tourgeniev and other proponents of literary realism. And encouraged by Flaubert, the erstwhile volunteer of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 eventually turned to journalism and published his first book, a collection of poetry, in 1880. He soon became known as a masterful short story writer, owing the clarity and concise nature of his prose in no small part to the lessons learned from his fatherly friend. Normandy, the beloved land of his childhood and adolescence, plays a dominant role in much of Maupassant's writing; both as a backdrop and as a means of highlighting emotions and plot developments.
In six novels, Maupassant condensed the motifs explored in his numerous short stories, which would ultimately count over 300. "Une Vie" ("A Life") is the first of these novels, published in 1883. It traces the life of Jeanne de Lamare, née Jeanne des Vauds, only daughter and heiress to the fortune of a Norman aristocrat family, from the moment she leaves her convent school at the age of seventeen, to advanced age and grandmotherhood. Naive by nature and sheltered from the harsh realities of life behind the walls of the convent, young Jeanne's outlook on life upon returning to her parents' chateau on the Norman coast, les Peuples, which she shall eventually inhabit with her husband, is innocently optimistic. Only a few months after her arrival, she falls in love with the viscount de Lamare whom she marries in very short order. But from here on out her life changes rapidly, because once married, her husband drops any pretence at the charm he has displayed while wooing her.