Story #32 for the Deal Me In Challenge is brought to me by the 9 of Diamonds – “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant. According to Wikipedia, the story first ran in the French paper Le Gaulois in February 1884 and has since inspired several other authors and playwrights. It is widely available in the public domain, and I read it at East of the Web.
This is a story I felt like most everyone had read except me. Once I finished reading it, I was overcome by the nagging suspicion that I had in fact read it many years before, but it may be simply that the story is so iconic that echoes of it can be found in many other works.
The story is quite simple at heart – a young woman of modest means desires pretty dresses and jewelry yet has no hope of ever having them. Her husband works hard as a clerk, and they have a home and one servant. So I would not call them poor by an means, but they certainly feel that they are poor in comparison to other families they know.
When the husband brings home an invitation to a fancy soirée, thinking his wife will be thrilled, he is surprised to find that she is instead dejected. The practicalities of their situation decree that she has nothing suitable to wear to such an affair. Although the husband has been saving money to buy himself a gun, (for leisure, it should be noted…not for necessary hunting) he decides to give the money to his wife so she can buy a dress for the party. For jewelry, she will borrow something from a more affluent friend, even though it will be a bit humiliating to do so. She borrows a lovely diamond necklace and is overcome with joy.
The evening in question arrives, and a good time is had by all. But when the couple returns home, the necklace is nowhere to be found! After an exhaustive search, it is decreed lost. The husband borrows money from everyone he knows, and a replacement necklace is purchased and substituted with the lender none the wiser. The couple spends the next 10 years (!) paying back these debts, moving to a tiny attic apartment, dismissing the servant and living even more simply. The husband takes in extra work; the wife does all the housework herself and ages rapidly. Eventually the debts are paid and the couple’s minds are set at ease.
A chance meeting later with the lender of the necklace brings a shock and the characteristic de Maupassant twist ending, which I will not spoil for anyone who has not read the piece.
On the surface, it would seem that this story gives critique to social striving, covetousness and materialism. But this was a natural and honest sentiment for the woman – wanting to be appropriately dressed for the occasion and not humiliated among others more fortunate. I don’t feel this is what the author intended to critique at all. The couple pays their debts, at great personal loss and with much hardship yet without undue complaint. If they had just been honest with the lender instead of trying to cover up the fact that the necklace was missing, they could have spared themselves so much grief. I feel like de Maupassant was trying to make the point that trying to cover up a negative occurrence through trickery and deception brings more suffering that it alleviates, even as it may be well-meaning. In lying in an attempt to avoid the lender’s potential anger or disdain or grief at the loss, they took on a greatly-disproportionate quantity of pain themselves, needlessly. Two entire lives ruined, all for a meaningless bauble. Don’t we see such dramas play out, perhaps less dramatically, all around us every day?