Guy de Maupassant

A Great French Writer of Short Stories

Guy de Maupassant was born on 5 August 1850, near to Dieppe.  Although he is known as Guy, he had three more first names.  His full name was Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant. 

Guy's father was called Gustave de Maupassant.  His mother was Laure Le Poittevin and she loved art and literature, especially Shakespeare.  She was from an aristocratic family and she was a close friend of the famous French author Gustave Flaubert.   It was Flaubert who taught and influenced the young Guy de Maupassant in his writing-style.

Guy grew up in the countryside and near to the sea.  He loved sailing.  Later in his life, he would write very realistic stories about peasants, poor people and country life.

Guy de Maupassant died at the age of forty-three in 1893.  He was laid to rest at the Cimetière de Montparnasse in Paris.
 

He wrote six novels, but he is most famous for his many short stories.  There is a compilation of fifteen of his short stories called Quinze Contes.  One of those fifteen stories is called La Parure (The Necklace).  It is one of his best-loved tales. 

Here are some details of the story (with quotations printed in red):

Guy de Maupassant was one of the many people who hated the Eiffel Tower when it was first built!    

It is a famous fact that Guy regularly ate lunch in the restaurant of the Tower.  When asked why he visited the restaurant so frequently if he hated the Tower so much, he replied - 

C'est le seul endroit de la ville où je ne la vois pas.


'It is the only place in town where I do not see it.' 

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!....
 

So, what does the story of the necklace tell us?

1.  We should cherish what we already have, such as health, family and friends.  Stop thinking resentfully that other people have a better life.

2.  Do not place importance on material things.  Being vain and trying always to look 'important' and 'better than everyone else' gets you nowhere.  Don't be false by pretending to be something you are not.  Instead, work on developing your talents.

3.  You cannot judge people or things only by their appearance.   Wise decisions can only be made when you know someone or something well.

4.  Your life can change drastically, for better or for worse.  Make every day count.  Live for the present.

5.  Big changes in your life can be the result of just a small incident so always be careful.  Sometimes a life-changing event is through no fault of our own but sometimes it is through carelessness and being silly.

6.  It is good to be honest, open and transparent.  Good communication in a crisis can help to find a solution.

7.  Be strong and don't give in to other people's demands.  Don't let yourself be bullied or manipulated.  If you don't want to do something because you think it is not wise, then don't do it!  Mathilde made her husband feel under pressure to keep her happy even though he knew they couldn't afford it.  He should have put his foot down and stuck to his beliefs.  Instead, he was weak and he paid the consequences.

8.  We truly appreciate what we have when we no longer have it and it's gone.  So, make sure you appreciate it now!

 





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