In spite of a profound disgust professed by Maupassant's male characters for “the filthy and ridiculous act of reproduction,” as the protagonist of L'Inutile beauté puts it, the writer's fiction tells recurring stories of unwanted pregnancies and botched deliveries, abortions and miscarriages.
For Maupassant, the womb is a powerful threat to manhood, a woman's ultimate instrument of destruction: the “bosse du flanc,” a derogatory term used by Maupassant to describe a pregnancy in Mont-Oriol, is the means by which feminine “terrorism” is activated.
Women are both the perpetrators and the victims of this obstetrical terrorism: during gestation, the fetus is felt to be a foreign entity, another “Horla”, attacking the integrity of the womb. Parturition is a form of mutilation for the woman, and new mothers often resort to infanticide or suicide.
Pregnancy is also threatening to others. For the male character, it implies an unknown origin, casting doubt over his claim to paternity: threatened in his ability to reproduce, he finds himself an outsider, even in the most intimate encounters. His wish is for a sterile woman, a womb that would be perpetually unoccupied. But even sterile women turn away, as does the frigid heroine of Maupassant's last novel Notre cœur, and men find themselves dispossessed by a growing sense of alienation.