GUY DE MAUPASSANT: HIS LIFE AND WORKS
Widely regarded as the master of the short story form, Henry René Albert Guy de Maupassant was a renowned French writer of the nineteenth century born in August 5, 1850. His father Gustave de Maupassant and his mother Laure Le Poittevin both had aristocratic lineage. He also had one younger brother Hervé. However, owing to the separation of his parents when he was eleven years old, Guy de Maupassant as well as his brother who was six years younger than him, lived with their mother. This is why his mother had a tremendous influence on him. At the age of thirteen, Maupassant was sent for education at a small seminary at Yvetot for a brief period of time and then moved to a private school in Rouen, Leroy-Petit.In 1870, after his graduation, the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) broke out and he became a volunteer. In fact, his first-hand experiences in the war provided him with much insight into the realities of life and people which was reflected in many of his works. One of the most well known figures who helped Maupassant in his literary endeavours at his initial stage was Gustave Flaubert. Through him, Maupassant got acquainted with the French novelist Émile Zola and the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev whose philosophy on naturalism influenced his writings to a great extent.
Being the son of an influential father, he was easily transferred from the Ministry of Marine to the Ministry of Public Instruction. He started his literary career by serving as the contributing editor of many leading newspapers like Le Figaro, Gil Blas, Le Gaulois and l’Écho de Paris.
In 1880 his first short fiction titled, Boule de Suif was published which he had set against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian war. Few of his short stories include “Deux Amis”, “Mother Savage”, “Mademoiselle Fifi”, “A Coward”, “A Cremation”, “Abandoned”, “The Accent”, “A Family Affair”, “Two Little Soldiers”, “The Umbrella”, etc. among many others. The first volume of his short story was titled La Maison Tellier. He also wrote novels namely, Une Vie, Pierre et Jean, etc.
Through his stories, Maupassant recreated the lives of the ordinary people effortlessly and established himself as one of the greatest short story writers of all times.
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SUMMARY/ EXPLANATION OF THE SHORT STORY
“The Necklace” is one of the most famous short stories by Guy de Maupassant which was first published in the newspaper Le Gaulois in 1884 before appearing in his collection of short stories titled Tales of Day and Night in 1885. It deals with a woman named Mathilde. She is married to a clerk who works at the Ministry of Public Instruction. However, even though she is pretty her poverty and the life she led could not make her feel content which shadowed her charm and beauty. Her dissatisfaction with the ordinary life she was living as well as the suffocation of the worn-out furniture and the house points towards Mathilde’s sadness. The ‘little Breton peasant’ who did her housework constantly reminds her of her own stature and fills her with despair. She constantly yearns for things which she can not have the privilege to enjoy: “the silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry”, bronze lamps, footmen, salons decorated with ancient silk fabrics, exquisitely fine furniture, perfumed chambers, ‘shining silverware’, exotic dishes, jewelleries and dresses. The thought of her lifestyle tormented her so much that she did not like to visit her rich school friend as was obvious that she might return heartbroken. One evening, her husband returned home with an envelope containing an invitation card from the Minister of Public Instruction, Georges Ramponneau and his wife at their palace.
Monsieur Loisel expected that Mathilde will be happy on finding out that they have been invited. But things did not turn the way he expected. Instead of being pleased, Madame Loisel threw the card in disdain complaining with utter grief that she did not have dress to attend the ball. Monsieur Loisel inquired how much it could cost them to buy a suitable dress for her. Mathilde hesitatingly replied four hundred francs- the exact amount that he was saving to buy a gun to shoot larks at Nanterre with his friends. He, however, agreed to buy her a ‘pretty dress’. Even then, a kind of anxiety engulfed Madame Loisel as the day of the ball was drawing near. On being asked, she told her husband that she would rather not go to the ball because she did not have jewellery. Even though he tried to convince her that flowers could be worn, she was not eager to go without a jewel. She told him that all the rich women in the ball will look down upon her. However, she cheered up when her husband reminded her that she can borrow jewels from her friend Madame Forestier. She then visited her friend Madame Forestier the next day who laid before her many options from which she could select. Mathilde tried on several ornaments before finalising the diamond necklace which she borrowed with utmost happiness. Mathilde was able to grip everyone’s attention at the ball; she could see men of high rank who endeavoured to get acquainted with her. She was too happy with the way she emerged as the most beautiful and gracious woman at the ball. She danced to her heart’s content celebrating her success and beauty which are so dear to a woman while her husband slept since midnight in ‘little deserted anteroom’ along with three other gentlemen. The Loisels left at 4 a.m. in the morning. Monsieur Loisel put wraps on her shoulders that are very ordinary and contrary to what Madame Loisel was wearing. Hence, she swiftly rushed out in order to avoid being seen with the wraps by the other women who were donning costly furs. Even though her husband suggested she should wait for a while till he brings the cab, she rushed hurriedly. They did not find a cab immediately and had to wait until they find one which dropped them at their home in the Rue des Martyrs. What happened next was the most significant twist in the story. As she removed her wraps and looked into her reflection in the mirror once last time to ‘see herself in glory’, she found out that the necklace was lost. She told her husband and they searched everywhere- the folds of her dress, cloaks, but the necklace was nowhere found. They thought that it might have fallen on the way. Monsieur Loisel searched for the necklace and came home empty-handed. He also tried other means like visiting the police, newspaper offices and even the cab offices but to his utter dismay, the necklace could not be found.
He suggested Mathilde to write to her friend stating that the clasp of the necklace had broken and it will take some time to get it mended. But by the end of the week, all their hope was gone. Loisel decided that the ornament have to be replaced. They took the necklace to many jewellers searching for one that exactly looked like the original. At last, they found one in a shop located at the Palais Royal. It was worth forty thousand francs which they bought in for thirty-six thousand francs. It must be noted that all his savings worth eighteen thousand francs inherited from his father was invested to buy the necklace. Loisel had to borrow the rest of the money. Finally, Mathilde returned the necklace to Madame Forestier who icily told that she returned the necklace late. However, Madame Loisel feared that what if Madame Forestier discovers that it was replaced. But she takes the case from Mathilde without checking the box containing the necklace.
Facing her reality, knowing that the debt had to be repaid, Madame Loisel and her husband dismissed their servant and shifted to a garret. In the absence of their housemaid, Mathilde had to wash dishes, linens, and do all other household chores. She had to live the life of a commoner while her husband tried to make money by working very hard and overtime. It took them ten long years to repay the debt with interest. By then, Madame Loisel looked old and became a commoner “with frowsy hair, skirts askew, and red hands”. However, she sometimes reflected on that night when she was beautiful and the centre of attraction at the ball. With utter pain, she recounts what if the necklace was not lost; life would have been better: “How little a thing is needed for us to be lost or to be saved!”
One Sunday she came across Madame Forestier who looked beautiful and young. Mathilde, on the other hand, looked so old that her friend did not recognise her immediately. However, as soon as her friend identified her, Mathilde decided to tell her about the necklace since she was already freed of debt. The irony that befell Mathilde at the end was that the necklace was not original and at most, it could have been five hundred francs.
STYLE AND LANGUAGE
In the story, one comes across certain literary devices like irony and symbolism extensively pervading its plot. Guy de Maupassant uses an omniscient third-person narrator to uphold the entire episode of the necklace. Interestingly, the narrator never judges the characters, rather presents them before the readers as they are. Mostly the story is concerned about the necklace and Madame Loisel, reflecting on her humble family lineage and her marriage, briefly summing up the social class to which she belonged. Herein lies the greatness of Guy de Maupassant who successfully drew attention of his readers by his commentary on social life with a well-knit plot and a keen sense of observation.
What is striking about the story is the ending which uses the device of irony. While Mathilde and her husband pass ten years in poverty only to repay the debt they had taken to buy a diamond necklace, it was revealed that the necklace which they borrowed was not original. The twist in the story added to its wholeness thereby highlighting upon the ironical situation prevalent in the society it depicted. Some of the notable aspects of Maupassant’s style are his simplicity, use of short paragraphs, emphasis on realism and a twist in the ending. Through the character of Mathilde, he portrayed how social differences or materialistic inclination can pave the way to self-destruction. What is emphasised through the story, therefore, is the pointlessness of blindly following what is considered powerful by the society– material wealth as a means of happiness– in case of this story. Significantly, his use of wit goes into the creation of his short stories. He combines both good and bad characters in his stories through which he highlights universal themes like class distinction and reality versus appearance.
After we have finished reading the unit, we became familiar with one of the greatest short story writers of the nineteenth century, namely Guy de Maupassant. Apart from gaining ideas about his personal life, you have also been acquainted with his major works. Here, we have dealt at great details with one of his famous and frequently anthologised short stories “The Necklace” which deals with the turn in the fortune of the Loisel’s because of the ‘necklace’ they borrowed. It is an interesting story dealing with certain themes like duality of real versus appearance, division in class, etc. With the help of literary devices like symbolism and irony, Maupassant excellently brings out the essence of the subject matter in the story. To get a better idea regarding his style of writing and the issues of his interest, you are suggested to go through his other short stories too. It will enable you to appreciate the writer and his works in a good way.
1) Abrams, M. H. (1999). A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th edition. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
2) Maupassant, Guy de. (2002 11th edition). Complete Maupassant Original Short Stories. Project Gutenberg. E-book.
CHECK YOUR PROGRESS
Q 1: Name two novels by Guy de Maupassant.
Ans. Une Vie, Pierre et Jean.
Q 2: In which newspaper did the short story “The Necklace” first appeared?
Ans. Le Gaulois in 1884.
Q 3:Why did Mathilde borrow the necklace from her friend?
Ans. Refer to Summary
Q 4:What was the revelation regarding the necklace at the end of the story?
Ans. The irony that befell Mathilde at the end was that the necklace was not original and at most, it could have been five hundred francs.
Q 1: Critically analyse the short story “The Necklace”.
Q 2: Give a brief description of the major characters of the story “The Necklace”.
Q 3: Describe the theme of appearance versus reality in “The Necklace”.
Q 4: Comment on the language and style of Guy de Maupassant with particular reference to the story “The Necklace”.