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The Necklace–Guy du Maupassant

The short life of Guy du Maupassant (1850-93) produced a series of finely crafted short stories, the most celebrated of which, “The Necklace,” I am teaching in my fiction class today. The plot of this story is simple enough. Loisel, a rather venal young wife, preparing to attend a ball, borrows her wealthy friend’s necklace. Somehow, Loisel manages to lose the necklace, and then, to save face, she and her husband scrape, borrow, and plead to gather sufficient funds to replace it before the friend knows the difference. After several hard years of work, the debts for the necklace are finally repaid. Only then does Loisel discover that the necklace was indeed costume jewelry.

Is this story a commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2-3? Although du Maupassant is not considered a religious writer by any stretch, he seems to echo a number of Biblical themes is these few pages. Certainly Loisel can be condemned for focusing her attention on transient matters. For one night’s enjoyment, she wipes out the couple’s savings–granted savings that her husband had squirreled away for an equally indulgent purpose–and puts at risk their financial prospects. No mention is made of storing up treasures in heaven rather than on earth (Matthew 6:19-20), yet the jump is not too difficult to make.

The evident sexism in the story, rather than simply reflecting the standards of the age, can be seen as echo of allegorical women in Proverbs and elsewhere. My personal favorite text on this front is the jewelry reference in Proverbs 11:22.

Typically I have found very little to engage with this story, opting to couple it with a discussion of Freytag’s Pyramid and traditional story structure, but perhaps, even without conscious choice, du Maupassant has embedded his story with some eternal themes.

Posted in French Literature.

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