Code: Mopasan

Stories and short stories

Stories and short  stories
Diamonds may not be a girl's best friend. I first read "The Necklace" in a college English short story course, more years ago than I want to say. The professor was rather odd and had (I thought) an undue hang-up with making us distill the meaning and theme of each story into a sentence that we would offer up to the rest of the class for dissection. But it was one of my more memorable college courses, and this is one of the more memorable stories we read in that class. Only a few of those stories have really stuck with me through the years. "The Necklace" is one of them. (A Rose for Emily is one of the others.)
This is an uncomfortable, maddening short story: Mathilde Loisel is bourgeois, married to an unimportant clerk. But she is beautiful and graceful and certain that she was meant for better things. She suffered intensely, feeling herself born for every delicacy and every luxury. She suffered from the poverty of her dwelling, from the worn walls, the abraded chairs, the ugliness of the stuffs... She had no dresses, no jewelry, nothing. And she loved nothing else; she felt herself made for that only. She would so much have liked to please, to be envied, to be seductive and sought after. Then one day her opportunity to be noticed, and surrounded by riches, arrives: her husband brings home an invitation to a party given by the Minister of Education. Mathilde manages to get the money for a new dress from her husband, who gives up his own dream of a new gun and a hunting vacation, and borrows a beautiful diamond necklace from a rich friend from her school days. And she has the time of her life at the party, until ... well, go read the story for yourself. It's very short. (Here's an online version.)
This story may have stuck with me for so long mostly because of the unexpected ending, but it also says some important things about our values, and pride, and human nature. Appearances may be deceiving, in more ways than one. What we sometimes think is important in our lives may not be at all. And things - or people - that we sometimes fail to appreciate enough may be where the real value lies. Monsieur Loisel only appears around the edges of the story, but he's the character I feel the most sympathy for.
Guy du Maupassant died at only age 43, in an asylum, suffering from the effects of syphilis. His epitaph, which he wrote: "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing." Coming from the person who had enough insight to write "The Necklace," I find that intensely sad.
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