Study Guide

The Necklace

By Guy de Maupassant

The Necklace Introduction

"The Necklace" (in French, "La Parure") is perhaps the most famous short story by French author Guy de Maupassant. It's been called Madame Bovary in miniature, and tells the tale of a dissatisfied woman whose dreams of glamour end in disaster. Maupassant first published it (in French) on February 17, 1884 in a daily newspaper called Le Gaulois, where he worked as an editor.

So just who, you ask, is this guy, Guy, with the hard-to-pronounce French name? As it turns out, he's a big deal. Maupassant is the father of the French short story. Some would even say that he is the father of the modern short story (or at least one of the fathers). Though he didn't invent the short story genre, he perfected it, popularized it, and greatly expanded his audience's understanding of what could be done with it. It helped that he wrote some three hundred short stories, all mostly between 1880 and 1890.

Maupassant was also famous for his use of the twist endings. Guy didn't invent that either, and he certainly didn't use it in every one of his stories. But when he did use it, he was good at it...and it was he, more than anyone else, who made the twist ending big.

We mention that because "The Necklace" has the most famous of all of Maupassant's twist endings—which is also why it's his most famous short work.

"The Necklace" follows the life of a Parisian woman—Mathilde—who's solidly middle-class but dreams of immense wealth and romance. One day, her loving-but-unglamorous clerk husband gives her a present: two tickets to a fancypants ball. She's upset—she has nothing to wear.

Sound a bit like a fairy tale? Well, yeah. But Mathilde's not really Cinderella...although they have something in common: they both have Fairy Godmothers. Mathilde's Fairy Godmother-type figure, an old school friend, loans her a magnificent diamond necklace.

Er—actually, Cinderella and Mathilde have two things in common. Cinderella loses her shoe when exiting the ball, and Mathilde loses the diamond necklaces, thus changing her life forever...

Though Maupassant was already well-known in France by the time he wrote it, in the English-speaking world his initial fame rested largely on this little jewel (or is that "necklace"?) of a story. It was a particular hit with Americans, who couldn't get over how cool the ending was. In fact, the story led to something of a twist-ending fad in popular literature. It wasn't too long before the U.S. produced its own version of Maupassant, O. Henry, whose story "Gift of the Magi" may have the other most famous twist ending of all time.

What is The Necklace About and Why Should I Care?

Castles—Or At Least Mansions—In The Air

Meet Mathilde Loisel. She's middle class, she has a maid, a nice home, and a kind husband. But her days are marked with dissatisfaction, and she lives in a fantasy world where she can pretend her life is full of glamour, wealth, and beautiful people.

We're guessing you know someone just like her.

Maybe your sister spends all day mooning over Instagram, wishing that she were an influencer. Maybe your brother has rockstar daydreams, and feels like it's unfair he's stuck finishing college instead of touring. Maybe your uncle wants to sail around the world on a yacht; maybe your aunt wants a house that looks like a spread from Better Homes and Gardens.

Or maybe even you've fallen prey to the fantasy that you deserve much, much more than you have.

Don't get us wrong; it's great to strive and follow your dreams. It's great to give it your all and attain something. But there are some things you can't control...and people waste hours, days, and even years daydreaming their way out of reality and into imaginary castles/football stadiums/Oscars ceremonies. Sometimes, it's good to realize what you have right in front of you is...good.

Mathilde Loisel doesn't do this, and she pays a terrible, terrible price for it. She loses status, youth, beauty and—and this is the most important thing—time.

And "loss of time" is what happens to everyone when they're preoccupied with wishing for a life they'll never lead.

Sure, dreaming about your ideal life (complete with cars, private jets, and butlers) is usually harmless, but it's a massive time-suck. The minutes spent coveting other people's lives could be spent making yours better, or they could be spent reflecting on how satisfied you are, or they could be spent reading great literature like "The Necklace."

Or hey: you could spend the next few minutes doing all three at once.

The Necklace Resources

Websites

Maupassant Biography
Read a biography of Guy de Maupassant.

Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant
Download a collection of Maupassant short stories for free.

Historical Documents

Original "Necklace"
Check the French newspaper Le Gaulois, in which "The Necklace" first appeared in print (as "La Parure").

"The Necklace"
A link to the Brander Matthews translation of the story used in this Shmoop guide, with brief translator's commentary.

"La Parure"
Read the story in the original French here.

Video

Computer Animation
A fun animated version of "The Necklace."

"The Necklace": A Modern Take
See a modern rendition of the story that's short, funny, silent, and strange…the kind of thing you'd only find on YouTube.

Audio

"The Necklace" Read Aloud
Hear the story, and read along if you like.

NPR: Guy de Maupassant, a Jeweler of Language
Here a short NPR story on Guy de Maupassant by Cuban author and journalist Mirta Ojito, who was inspired by him as a child.

Images

The Author Himself
A classic photo of Maupassant…get a load of that moustache.

Maupassant, Take 2
Another photo of Maupassant, with a still very impressive moustache.