During his short lifetime, Maupassant, essentially a secretive man, encouraged a good deal of inaccurate speculation since he was the Bel Ami of a good many wealthy, indulgent women. Actually behind his facade of ruddy, robust energy and sensuous libertinage, he concealed ""the mind of the cynic and body of the invalid."" Professor Lerner (University of Glasgow) has composed a tactful biography--the first in many years--of the writer who had a variety of influences: his proprietary mother; the poet Louis Bouilhet; Flaubert; and later the nascent new naturalism of Zola and Balzac. Maupassant began with some grandiose verse plays and obscenity-tinged farces; eventually he found his own themes and style in the short stories and novels. But then at 26 he had contracted the ""pox"" and he died at forty in the physical and hallucinatory agony of syphilitic paresis, ""utterly without hope."" Maupassant has never achieved here the stature he has maintained in France as a major minor artist--Lerner's gentle assessment of the man and his work should serve him well.