WAS IT A DREAM is a short story by Guy De Maupassant, the 19th century French short story writer. A master story teller, he is known for the surprise endings , much to the shock of the reader.
The story is set in Paris.An unnamed lover is unable to bear the loss of his beloved who has died due to cough and fever she catches suddenly , after getting wet in the rain.He runs away from home soon after the last rites .
After some years he returns to Paris, his home and once more feels nostalgic to think of his beloved. He feels her permanent impression on the mirror in which she used to look before leaving home , to ensure that every thing was in place.
He makes his way to the graveyard on a dark moonless night , and tired sits on the stone of an old grave. Soon he feels the earth shaking and the stone rising. Frightened , he shifts to the other stone nearby . He sees a skeleton rising from the grave. The epitaph on the stone reads ‘Here lies Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He loved his family, was kind and honorable, and died in the grace of the Lord’.
The skeleton reads the epitaph and sets out to erase the letters. After erasing the letters , he rewrites the epitaph which now reads “‘Here reposes Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one. He hastened his father’s death by his unkindness, as he wished to inherit his fortune, he tortured his wife, tormented his children, deceived his neighbors, robbed everyone he could, and died wretched.’
Surprised and shocked he walks to the grave of his beloved and finds his dead beloved indulging in the same activity of erasing and rewriting . The epitaph which earlier read ‘She loved, was loved, and died’now reads ‘Having gone out one day, in order to deceive her lover, she caught cold in the rain and died.’
The story ends with the line ‘It appears that they found me at daybreak, lying on the grave unconscious.’
This is not a conventional love story though the narrator and the central character is a lover. Maupassant has not given any name to the lover and the beloved to extend the scope of the narrative as relating to the humanity world wide. The name Jacques Olivant appears only as a reference point.
Only the dead know about themselves , is the easy inference one can draw.
A wonderful story, though shocking too !