The story of 'La Parure' - The Necklace
It was written in 1880 and tells the story of a lady called Mathilde Loisel. She is dissatisfied with her ordinary husband and her ordinary life-style. She has always felt, since childhood, that she was born into the wrong family! Instead, she believes that she should have been an aristocrat:
C'était une de ces jolies et charmantes filles, née, comme par une erreur du destin, dans une famille d'employés. Elle n'avait pas de dot, pas d'espérances, aucun moyen d'être connue, comprise, aimée, épousée par un homme riche et distingué; et elle se laissa marier avec un petit commis du ministère de l'Instruction publique.
Her hard-working husband is unable to offer the rich and glamorous lifestyle that she craves. Mathilde dreams of balls and expensive gowns, of jewellery and fine furniture. Her poor husband feels sad because she is obviously so unhappy with her life.
One day, he receives an invitation to a ball where lots of important and famous guests will be attending. Mathilde insists that she must buy a new gown for the occasion, even though they can't really afford it. So, her husband puts together enough money for a gown, just to keep her happy.
However, Mathilde is still not content! She realises that she has no jewels to go with the new gown. Her husband suggests that she could wear real flowers which would be fashionable, classy and would cost virtually nothing. But this idea is rejected by Mathilde. She would find it too embarrassing to look poor whilst in the company of the wealthy women at the ball. Only jewels will do. She says -
- Non .... il n'y a rien de plus humiliant que d'avoir l'air pauvre au milieu de femmes riches.
Her husband suggests visiting Jeanne, a wealthy friend, in order to borrow some jewellery. Mathilde agrees that this is an excellent idea. She visits Jeanne and borrows a magnificent diamond necklace.
The evening of the ball arrives. It is wonderful. Everyone admires Mathilde's beauty and expensive attire. They think she must be an important, wealthy guest. Without doubt, she is the belle of the ball. Mathilde has never felt happier.
The time comes to return home. It is four o' clock in the morning and her husband is very tired and worrying that he has to be at work in the office very soon.
Back at home, Mathilde takes a final look in the mirror before regretfully taking off her gown and returning to reality. She feels sad and depressed.
Then disaster strikes!
Mathilde notices that her neck is bare. She has lost the necklace! They hunt everywhere, exhausted, retracing their steps, but the necklace is nowhere to be found. For a whole week, they search desperately but with no luck.
The diamond necklace must be returned. Mathilde is too ashamed to tell her friend what has happened so, using their limited savings and taking out massive loans, Mathilde and her husband purchase a similar one. It is on sale at 40,000 francs which in today's money is around 130,000 euros! They manage to lower the price and purchase it for 36,000 francs.
They place the new necklace in the box belonging to the lost necklace and return it to the friend who luckily does not open it and therefore does not notice the different necklace inside.
For the next ten years, Mathilde and her husband have to work very hard to pay off the huge debt. They live a miserable and hard life. They move to an inferior flat. They send away their maid and now Mathilde has to do all the household chores. Her husband works night shifts in addition to his day job.
Mathilde grows old and haggard because of the strain. She looks like a poor woman who cannot afford to dress well. Her hair is messy. Her previously manicured hands have become rough. She no longer speaks or behaves in a refined manner.
Now her previous existence seems so wonderful!
Mme. Loisel semblait vieille maintenant. Elle était devenue la femme forte, et dure, et rude, des ménages pauvres. Mal peignée, avec les jupes de travers et les mains rouges, elle parlait haut, lavait à grande eau les planchers.
Ten years later, when the debt is finally repaid, Mathilde happens to meet the friend who loaned her the diamond necklace. Her friend hardly recognises Mathilde because she looks so old and tired.
- Oh! .... ma pauvre Mathilde, comme tu es changée!
They have a conversation and Mathilde finally reveals the story of the lost necklace and how she replaced it with an almost identical one.
Mathide's friend is shocked and reveals that her necklace was only a cheap fake!
- Oh! ma pauvre Mathilde! Mais la mienne était fausse. Elle valait au plus cinq cents francs!....