Guy de Maupassant & 'The Necklace'

Guy de Maupassant wrote over three hundred short stories, six novels, poems, travel books, articles, four plays and pornography and was a hugely influential writer, establishing the modern short story form and writing stories which have been hard for others to equal when it comes to quality, intriguing twists in the tail, and an almost photographic realism. He could never explain his own literary ability and grew quite panic-stricken when asked about his gift, or even when others talked of literary matters in his presence. He didn’t want to analyse – just to represent and narrate.

I vividly remember my first reading of this powerful short story. I was about 11 years old and attending Tokoroa Intermediate School in New Zealand. It was a cold, wet winter afternoon and our teacher, Mr Collins, suggested we all open a School Reader Journal and do 30 minutes of silent reading. I opened up the book and was attracted by one title – The Necklace. I began to read … and soon the classroom walls seemed to disappear, and I found myself in Paris, borrowing a necklace from a friend and then finding to my horror that it was no longer around my neck.

“women belong to no caste, no race; their grace, their beauty, and their charm serving them in the place of birth and family.” – Guy de Maupassant

I think it was the first time in my life that I had fully recognised the power of really great literature, had experienced what a writer can do to make us see a scene and picture the characters and gasp for breath at the end. I couldn’t wait to get on my bike and race home to tell my mother. I simply had to share with her this amazing story. She was at the kitchen bench, preparing dinner, and as I began recounting the plot, she smiled and said “Ah, you’ve been reading The Necklace. She went to the shelves and brought me a collection of Guy de Maupassant tales (which actually belonged to my Dad, who also loved his stories) and suggested I go away and read the story The Piece of String. That’s another incredibly moving, simply tale – another superb piece of short fiction!

Guy de Maupassant was a chronicler for his time, but a writer for all time – his stories touch on truths about the human condition. For many, he is the finest short story writer the world has ever known!

I have loved The Necklace ever since, have lectured on it, thought about its greatness and how much can be achieved within such a short work. I hope you enjoy reading and thinking about it too, and encourage you to go on to read more by this master of the short story.

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Comments (8)

  1. Deb

    Hi Susannah
    Like the others, this is a re-read for me too. I found it clever but stomach churning and very bleak. Vanity comes across as a strong theme for me; Mathilde is deluded by it and it is partly vanity that clouds her discernment of what was real and not real.
    What are your thoughts?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, she’s vain enough to think she is better than her husband and should have more than he can give her, and that brings about all the problems. Guy de Maupassant strongly stresses her loss of beauty by the end of the tale – she is careworn, her hands are ruined etc. So her vanity is what brings about the whole terrible story of borrowing and losing a necklace. It’s such a powerful story, and there are different ways of interpreting it, but it certainly makes you think.

  2. Ruth Wilson

    One of your many best Susannah!

    I watched the Fadiman film, because I so enjoy what his wife writes! Could that be a gender comment? How instructive to see how transportation of an idea from one medium to another changes so much.

    My reaction when I first read it, older than you perhaps 15 and that may account for it, was oh good, the Loisls can be reimbursed the difference, but I also realised that it was probably too to live happily ever after??

    Ruth W

    • Susannah Fullerton

      What did Fadiman’s wife write? I know his daughter’s writings – Anne Fadiman – but do let me know about his wife??
      Yes, you do have to wonder how the finances will get sorted – will Madame Forestier pay the Loisel’s back the value of the replaced necklace?? So glad you enjoyed my Guide, Ruth.

  3. Like you Susannah, this one of those stories I have never forgotten. It pops into my head at the most unexpected times. The honour and honesty of that poor woman was so beautiful and the rich woman also had a sort of honour in helping her friend, if unwittingly committing her to a life of struggle and poverty.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it amazing how much he packs in to so few words. I am glad you also found it such a memorable story.

  4. Like you, I read ‘The Necklace’ when I was 10 from my grandfather’s library. I remember it vividly. I read other short stories by Guy de Maupassant and was fascinated.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad to know that someone else shared my early reading experience of this fabulous short story. He’s a brilliant writer.

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