Matilda is invited to a grand party. She
has a beautiful dress but no jewellery. She
borrows a necklace from a friend ... and
loses it. What happens then?
Author: GUY DE MAUPASSANT
SHE was one of those pretty, young ladies, born as if through an
error of destiny, into a family of clerks. She had no dowry, no hopes,
no means of becoming known, loved, and married by a man either
rich or distinguished; and she allowed herself to marry a petty
clerk in the office of the Board of Education. She was simple, but
she was unhappy.
She suffered incessantly, feeling herself born for all delicacies
and luxuries. She suffered from the poverty of her apartment, the
shabby walls and the worn chairs. All these things tortured and
When she seated herself for dinner opposite her husband who
uncovered the tureen with a delighted air, saying, “Oh! the good potpie!
I know nothing better than that…,” she would think of elegant dinners,
of shining silver; she thought of the exquisite food served in marvellous
dishes. She had neither frocks nor jewels, nothing. And she loved only
She had a rich friend, a schoolmate at the convent, who she did not
like to visit — she suffered so much when she returned. She wept for
whole days from despair and disappointment.
One evening her husband returned elated bearing in his hand a
“Here,” he said, “here is something for you.”
She quickly drew out a printed card on which were inscribed
these words: -
The Minister of Public Instruction
Madame George Ramponneau
ask the honour of M. and Mme Loisel’s company. Monday
evening, January 18, at the Minister’s residence.
Instead of being delighted, as her husband had hoped, she threw
the invitation spitefully upon the table murmuring, “What do you
suppose I want with that?”
“But, my dearie, I thought
it would make you happy. You
never go out, and this is an
occasion, and a fine one!
Everybody wishes one, and it
is very select; not many are
given to employees. You will see
the whole official world there.”
She looked at him with an
irritated eye and declared
impatiently, “What do you
suppose I have to wear to such
a thing as that?”
He had not thought of that;
he stammered, “Why, the dress
you wear when we go to the
theatre. It seems very pretty to
He was silent, stupefied, in dismay, at the sight of his wife
weeping. He stammered, “What is the matter? What is the matter?”
By a violent effort, she had controlled her vexation and responded
in a calm voice, wiping her moist cheeks, “Nothing. Only I have no
dress and consequently I cannot go to this affair. Give your card to
some colleague whose wife is better fitted out than I.”
He was grieved, but answered, “Let us see, Matilda. How much
would a suitable costume cost, something that would serve for other
occasions, something very simple?”
She reflected for some seconds thinking of a sum that she could
ask for without bringing with it an immediate refusal and a frightened
exclamation from the economical clerk. Finally she said, in a hesitating
voice, “I cannot tell exactly, but it seems to me that four hundred
francs ought to cover it.”
He turned a little pale, for he had saved just this sum to buy a gun
that he might be able to join some hunting parties the next summer,
with some friends who went to shoot larks on Sunday. Nevertheless,
he answered, “Very well. I will give you four hundred francs. But try to
have a pretty dress.”
The day of the ball approached and Mme Loisel seemed sad,
disturbed, anxious. Nevertheless, her dress was nearly ready. Her
husband said to her one evening, “What is the matter with you? You
have acted strangely for two or three days.”
And she responded, “I am vexed not to have a jewel, nothing to
adorn myself with. I shall have such a poverty-stricken look. I would
prefer not to go to this party.”
He replied, “You can wear some natural flowers. In this season
they look very chic.”
She was not convinced. “No”, she replied, “there is nothing more
humiliating than to have a shabby air in the midst of rich women.”
Then her husband cried out, “How stupid we are! Go and find your
friend Mme Forestier and ask her to lend you her jewels.”
She uttered a cry of joy. “It is true!” she said. “I had not thought of that.”
The next day she took herself to her friend’s house and related her
story of distress. Mme Forestier went to her closet, took out a large
jewel-case, brought it, opened it, and said, “Choose, my dear.”
She saw at first some bracelets, then a collar of pearls, then a
Venetian cross of gold and jewels of admirable workmanship. She tried
the jewels before the glass, hesitated, but could neither decide to take
them nor leave them. Then she asked, “Have you nothing more?”
“Why, yes. Look for yourself. I do not know what will please you.”
Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb necklace of
diamonds. Her hands trembled as she took it out. She placed it about
her throat against her dress, and was ecstatic. Then she asked, in a
hesitating voice, full of anxiety, “Could you lend me this? Only this?”
“Why, yes, certainly.”
She fell upon the neck of her friend, embraced her with passion,
then went away with her treasure.
The day of the ball arrived. Mme Loisel was a great success. She
was the prettiest of all — elegant, gracious, smiling and full of joy. All
the men noticed her, asked her name, and wanted to be presented.
She danced with enthusiasm, intoxicated with pleasure, thinking
of nothing but all this admiration, this victory so complete and sweet
to her heart.
She went home towards four o’clock in the morning. Her husband
had been half asleep in one of the little salons since midnight, with
three other gentlemen whose wives were enjoying themselves very much.
He threw around her shoulders the modest wraps they had carried
whose poverty clashed with the elegance of the ball costume. She wished
to hurry away in order not to be noticed by the other women who were
wrapping themselves in rich furs.
Loisel detained her, “Wait,” said he. “I am going to call a cab.”
But she would not listen and descended the steps rapidly. When
they were in the street, they found no carriage; and they began to seek
for one, hailing the coachmen whom they saw at a distance.
They walked along toward the river, hopeless and shivering. Finally
they found one of those old carriages that one sees in Paris after nightfall.
It took them as far as their door and they went wearily up to their
apartment. It was all over for her. And on his part, he remembered
that he would have to be at the office by ten o’clock.
She removed the wraps from her shoulders before the glass, for a
final view of herself in her glory. Suddenly she uttered a cry. Her
necklace was not around her neck.
Loisel already half undressed, asked, “What is the matter?”
She turned towards him excitedly. “I have — I have — I no longer
have Mme Forestier’s necklace.”
He arose in dismay, “What! How is that? It is not possible.”
And they looked in the folds of the dress, in the folds of the cloak, in
the pockets, everywhere. They could not find it.
He asked, “You are sure you still had it when we left the Minister’s house?”
“Yes, I felt it as we came out.”
“But if you had lost it in the
street, we should have heard it
fall. It must be in the cab.”
“Yes, it is possible. Did you
take the number?”
“No. And you, did you
notice what it was?”
They looked at each other
utterly cast down. Finally
Loisel dressed himself again.
“I am going,” he said, “over
the track where we went on
foot, to see if I can find it.”
And he went. She remained
in her evening gown, not
having the force to go to bed.
Toward seven o’clock her
husband returned. He had found nothing.
He went to the police and to the cab offices, and put an
advertisement in the newspapers, offering a reward.
She waited all day in a state of bewilderment before this frightful
disaster. Loisel returned in the evening, his face pale; he had
He said, “Write to your friend that you have broken the clasp of the
necklace and that you will have it repaired. That will give us time.”
She wrote as he dictated.
At the end of a week, they had lost all hope. And Loisel, older by five
years, declared, “We must replace this jewel.”
In a shop of the Palais-Royal, they found a chaplet of diamonds,
which seemed to them exactly like the one they had lost. It was valued
at forty thousand francs. They could get it for thirty-six thousand.
Loisel possessed eighteen thousand francs, which his father had left
him. He borrowed the rest. He made ruinous promises, took money from
usurers and the whole race of lenders. Then he went to get the new
necklace, depositing on the merchant’s counter thirty-six thousand francs.
When Mme Loisel took back the jewels to Mme Forestier, the latter
said to her in a frigid tone, “You should have returned them to me
sooner, for I might have needed them.”
Mme Forestier did not open the jewel-box as Mme Loisel feared she
would. What would she think if she should perceive the substitution?
What should she say? Would she take her for a robber?
Mme Loisel now knew the horrible life of necessity. She did her
part, however, completely, heroically. It was necessary to pay this
frightful debt. She would pay it. They sent away the maid, they changed
their lodgings; they rented some rooms in an attic.
She learned the odious work of a kitchen. She washed the dishes.
She washed the soiled linen, their clothes and dishcloths, which she
hung on the line to dry; she took down the refuse to the street each
morning and brought up the water, stopping at each landing to catch
her breath. And, clothed like a woman of the people, she went to the
grocer’s, the butcher’s and the fruiterer’s, with her basket on her arm,
shopping, haggling to the last sou of her miserable money.
The husband worked evenings, putting the books of some merchants
in order, and nights he often did copying at five sous a page. And this
life lasted for ten years. At the end of ten years, they had restored all.
Mme Loisel seemed old now. She had become a strong, hard woman,
the crude woman of the poor household. Her hair badly dressed, her
skirts awry, her hands red, she spoke in a loud tone, and washed the
floors with large pails of water. But sometimes, when her husband
was at the office, she would seat herself before the window and think
of that evening party of former times, of that ball where she was so
beautiful and so flattered.
How would it have been if she had not lost the necklace? Who
knows? How singular is life, and how full of changes! How small a
thing will ruin or save one!
One Sunday as she was taking a walk in the Champs-Elysees to
rid herself of the cares of the week, she suddenly perceived a woman
walking with a child. It was Mme Forestier, still young, still pretty,
still attractive. Mme Loisel was affected. Should she speak to her?
Yes, certainly. And now that she had paid, she would tell her all.
She approached her. “Good morning, Jeanne.”
Her friend did not recognise her and was astonished to be so
familiarly addressed by this common personage. She stammered, “But,
Madame — I do not know — you must be mistaken—”
“No, I am Matilda Loisel.”
Her friend uttered a cry of astonishment, “Oh! my poor Matilda!
How you have changed!”
“Yes, I have had some hard days since I saw you; and some miserable
ones — and all because of you ...”
“Because of me? How is that?”
“You recall the diamond necklace that you loaned me to wear to the
“Yes, very well.”
“Well, I lost it.”
“How is that, since you returned it to me?”
“I returned another to you exactly like it. And it has taken us ten
years to pay for it. You can understand that it was not easy for us who
have nothing. But it is finished and I am decently content.”
Mme Forestier stopped short. She said, “You say that you bought a
diamond necklace to replace mine?”
“Yes. You did not perceive it then? They were just alike.”
And she smiled with proud and simple joy. Mme Forestier was
touched and took both her hands as she replied, “Oh! My poor Matilda!
Mine were false. They were not worth over five hundred francs!”
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