The Mustache by Guy de Maupassant
CHATEAU DE SOLLES,
July 30, 1883.
My Dear Lucy:
I have no news. We live in the drawing-room, looking out at the rain. We
cannot go out in this frightful weather, so we have theatricals. How
stupid they are, my dear, these drawing entertainments in the repertory
of real life! All is forced, coarse, heavy. The jokes are like cannon
balls, smashing everything in their passage. No wit, nothing natural, no
sprightliness, no elegance. These literary men, in truth, know nothing of
society. They are perfectly ignorant of how people think and talk in our
set. I do not mind if they despise our customs, our conventionalities,
but I do not forgive them for not knowing them. When they want to be
humorous they make puns that would do for a barrack; when they try to be
jolly, they give us jokes that they must have picked up on the outer
boulevard in those beer houses artists are supposed to frequent, where
one has heard the same students' jokes for fifty years.
So we have taken to Theatricals. As we are only two women, my husband
takes the part of a soubrette, and, in order to do that, he has shaved
off his mustache. You cannot imagine, my dear Lucy, how it changes him! I
no longer recognize him-by day or at night. If he did not let it grow
again I think I should no longer love him; he looks so horrid like this.
In fact, a man without a mustache is no longer a man. I do not care much
for a beard; it almost always makes a man look untidy. But a mustache,
oh, a mustache is indispensable to a manly face. No, you would never
believe how these little hair bristles on the upper lip are a relief to
the eye and good in other ways. I have thought over the matter a great
deal but hardly dare to write my thoughts. Words look so different on
paper and the subject is so difficult, so delicate, so dangerous that it
requires infinite skill to tackle it.
Well, when my husband appeared, shaven, I understood at once that I never
could fall in love with a strolling actor nor a preacher, even if it were
Father Didon, the most charming of all! Later when I was alone with him
(my husband) it was worse still. Oh, my dear Lucy, never let yourself be
kissed by a man without a mustache; their kisses have no flavor, none
whatever! They no longer have the charm, the mellowness and the snap
—yes, the snap—of a real kiss. The mustache is the spice.
Imagine placing to your lips a piece of dry—or
moist—parchment. That is the kiss of the man without a mustache. It
is not worth while.
Whence comes this charm of the mustache, will you tell me? Do I know
myself? It tickles your face, you feel it approaching your mouth and it
sends a little shiver through you down to the tips of your toes.
And on your neck! Have you ever felt a mustache on your neck? It
intoxicates you, makes you feel creepy, goes to the tips of your fingers.
You wriggle, shake your shoulders, toss back your head. You wish to get
away and at the same time to remain there; it is delightful, but
irritating. But how good it is!
A lip without a mustache is like a body without clothing; and one must
wear clothes, very few, if you like, but still some clothing.
I recall a sentence (uttered by a politician) which has been running in
my mind for three months. My husband, who keeps up with the newspapers,
read me one evening a very singular speech by our Minister of
Agriculture, who was called M. Meline. He may have been superseded by
this time. I do not know.
I was paying no attention, but the name Meline struck me. It recalled, I
do not exactly know why, the 'Scenes de la vie de boheme'. I thought it
was about some grisette. That shows how scraps of the speech entered my
mind. This M. Meline was making this statement to the people of Amiens, I
believe, and I have ever since been trying to understand what he meant:
"There is no patriotism without agriculture!" Well, I have just
discovered his meaning, and I affirm in my turn that there is no love
without a mustache. When you say it that way it sounds comical, does it
There is no love without a mustache!
"There is no patriotism without agriculture," said M. Meline, and he was
right, that minister; I now understand why.
From a very different point of view the mustache is essential. It gives
character to the face. It makes a man look gentle, tender, violent, a
monster, a rake, enterprising! The hairy man, who does not shave off his
whiskers, never has a refined look, for his features are concealed; and
the shape of the jaw and the chin betrays a great deal to those who
The man with a mustache retains his own peculiar expression and his
refinement at the same time.
And how many different varieties of mustaches there are! Sometimes they
are twisted, curled, coquettish. Those seem to be chiefly devoted to
Sometimes they are pointed, sharp as needles, and threatening. That kind
prefers wine, horses and war.
Sometimes they are enormous, overhanging, frightful. These big ones
generally conceal a fine disposition, a kindliness that borders on
weakness and a gentleness that savors of timidity.
But what I adore above all in the mustache is that it is French,
altogether French. It came from our ancestors, the Gauls, and has
remained the insignia of our national character.
It is boastful, gallant and brave. It sips wine gracefully and knows how
to laugh with refinement, while the broad-bearded jaws are clumsy in
everything they do.
I recall something that made me weep all my tears and also—I see it
now—made me love a mustache on a man's face.
It was during the war, when I was living with my father. I was a young
girl then. One day there was a skirmish near the chateau. I had heard the
firing of the cannon and of the artillery all the morning, and that
evening a German colonel came and took up his abode in our house. He left
the following day.
My father was informed that there were a number of dead bodies in the
fields. He had them brought to our place so that they might be buried
together. They were laid all along the great avenue of pines as fast as
they brought them in, on both sides of the avenue, and as they began to
smell unpleasant, their bodies were covered with earth until the deep
trench could be dug. Thus one saw only their heads which seemed to
protrude from the clayey earth and were almost as yellow, with their
I wanted to see them. But when I saw those two rows of frightful faces, I
thought I should faint. However, I began to look at them, one by one,
trying to guess what kind of men these had been.
The uniforms were concealed beneath the earth, and yet immediately, yes,
immediately, my dear, I recognized the Frenchmen by their mustache!
Some of them had shaved on the very day of the battle, as though they
wished to be elegant up to the last; others seemed to have a week's
growth, but all wore the French mustache, very plain, the proud mustache
that seems to say: "Do not take me for my bearded friend, little one; I
am a brother."
And I cried, oh, I cried a great deal more than I should if I had not
recognized them, the poor dead fellows.
It was wrong of me to tell you this. Now I am sad and cannot chatter any
longer. Well, good-by, dear Lucy. I send you a hearty kiss. Long live