Shewasoneofthosepretty,charmingyoungcreatures whosometimesareborn,asifbyaslipoffate,intoapetty official’sfamily.Shehadnodowry,noexpectations,no wayofbeingknown,understood,loved,marriedbyarich anddistinguishedman;sosheletherselfbemarriedtoa minor civil servant at the Ministry of Education.
since with women there is neither caste nor rank, for beauty, grace and charm take theplace offamily andbirth.Natural ingenuity,instinct forwhatiselegant, a supple mind are their sole hierarchy, and often make humble girls the peers of the grandest ladies.
Mathildesufferedceaselessly,feelingherselfborntoenjoyalldelicaciesand allluxuries.Shewasdistressedatthepovertyofherdwelling,atthewornwalls,at theshabbychairs,theuglycurtains.Allthosethings,ofwhichanotherwomanof herrankwouldneverevenhavebeenconscious,torturedherandmadeherangry. ThesightofthelittleBretonpeasantgirlwhodidherhumblehouseworkaroused in Mathilde despairing regrets and bewildering dreams. She thought of silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, illumined by tall bronze candelabra, and of two great footmen in knee breeches who sleep in the big armchairs, made drowsy by the oppressive heat of the stove. She thought of long reception halls hung with ancient silk, of dainty cabinets containing priceless curiosities and of littlecoquettishperfumedreceptionroomsmadeforchattingatfiveo’clockwith intimatefriends–famous,sought-aftermenwhoseattentionsallwomenlong for.
Then one evening her husband arrived home with a triumphant air, holdingalargeenvelopeinhishand.“There,”saidhe,“thereissomething foryou.”Shetorethepaperquicklyanddrewoutaprintedcardwhich read, “The Minister of Education and Madame Georges Ramponneau request the pleasure of the company of M. and Mme. Loisel at an evening reception at the Ministry on Monday, January 18th.”
Insteadofbeingdelighted, asherhusbandhadhoped,shethrewthe invitation on the table crossly, muttering, “What do you wishme to do with that?”
“Why,mydear,Ithoughtyouwouldbeglad. Younevergoout,andthisis suchafineopportunity.Ihadgreattroublegettingit;everyonewantstogo.Itis veryselect,andtheyarenotgivingmanyinvitationstoclerks. Alltheofficials will be there.”
Shelookedathimwithanirritated glanceandsaidimpatiently,“Ihaven’ta thing to wear. How could I go?”
Hehadnotthoughtofthat.Hestammered,“Why,thebluedressyougotothe theater in. I think it’s lovely on you.”
Hestopped,distracted,seeingthathiswifewasweeping. Twogreattears escaped from the corners of her eyes and rolled slowly toward the corners of her mouth.
“What’s the matter? Oh, what’s the matter, Mathilde?” he answered.
Byaviolenteffortsheconqueredhergriefandrepliedinacalmvoice,while shewipedherwetcheeks,“Nothing.OnlyIhavenogown,and,therefore,Ican’t gotothisball. Giveyourcardtosomecolleague whosewifewouldbebetter dressed than I.”
Hewasindespair.“Come,letussee,Mathilde.Howmuchwoulditcost, a suitable gown, which you could use on other occasions – something very simple?”
Shereflected severalseconds,makinghercalculationsandwonderingalso what sum she could seek without drawing an immediate refusal and a frightened exclamation fromthiseconomical government clerk. Finally,shereplied, hesitating,“Idon’tknowexactly,butIthinkIcouldmanageitwithfourhundred francs.”
Hegrewalittlepalebecausethatwasjusttheamounthehadputasidetobuy arifleandtreathimselftoalittleshootingnextsummerontheplainofNanterre, withseveralfriendswhowenttoshootlarksthereonSundays.Buthesaid,“Very well. I will give you four hundred francs. But do try to get something really nice.”
ThedayoftheballdrewnearandMadameLoiselseemedsad,uneasy,anxious, even though her frock wasready. Herhusband said to her one evening, “What is the matter? Come, you have seemed very strange these last three days.”
shall look so dowdy. I would almost rather not go at all.”
“Youmightwearnaturalflowers,”saidherhusband.“They’reseenasvery stylish at this time of year. For ten francs you can get two or three magnificent roses.”
Shewasnotconvinced.“No. There’snothingmorehumiliatingthantolook poverty-stricken among a lot of rich women.”
“Wait,yousillything!”herhusbandcried.“Golookupyourfriend,Madame Forestier,andaskhertolendyousomejewels.Youknowherwellenoughtodo that, don’t you think?”
She uttered a cry of joy, “True! I never thought of it.”
The next day shewent to her friend and told her ofher distress. Madame Forestierwenttoawardrobewithamirror,tookoutalargejewelbox,broughtit back, opened it and said to Madame Loisel, “Choose whatever you like.”
Shesawfirstsomebracelets,thenapearlnecklace,thenaVenetiangoldcross set with precious stones, of admirable workmanship. She tried on the ornaments beforethemirror,hesitating,unabletobringherselftotakethem
“Why, yes. Look for yourself; I don’t know what you like.” Suddenly,shediscovered,inablacksatinbox,asuperb
diamond necklace, and her heart throbbed with overwhelming desire.Herhandstrembledasshetookit.Shefasteneditsnuggly round her throat, outside her high-necked dress, and was lost in ecstasy at her reflectionin the mirror.
Thensheasked,hesitating,filledwithanxiousdoubt,“Will you lend me this, just this one?”
“Why, yes, certainly.”
Shethrewherarmsroundherfriend’sneck,kissedherpassionately,thenfled with her treasure.
The night of the ball arrived. Madame Loisel was a great success. She was morebeautifulthananyotherwomanpresent,elegant,graceful,smilingandwild withjoy.Allthemenlookedather,askedhername,soughttobeintroduced. AlltheCabinetmemberswishedtowaltzwithher. TheMinisterhimselfeven noticed her.
Shedancedwithrapture,withpassion,intoxicatedbypleasure,forgetting all in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness comprised of all this homage, admiration, these awakened desires and of that sense of triumph which is so sweet to the heart of a woman.
Whenshewasreadytoleave theparty,itwasnearlyfouro’clockinthe morning. Her husband had been sleeping since midnight in a little deserted anteroomwiththreeothergentlemen whosewiveswerehavingawonderful time.
He brought her wraps so that they could leave and put them around her shoulders – the plain wraps from her everyday life whose shabbiness jarred with theeleganceofhereveninggown.Shefeltthisandwishedtoescapesoasnot to be remarked by the other women, who were enveloping themselves in costly furs.
Loiselheldherback,saying,“Waitaminute.You’llcatchcoldoutside.Iwill call a cab.”
Butshedidnotlistentohimandrapidlydescendedthestairs. Whenthey reachedthestreet,theycouldnotfind acarriage,searchinginvainforone, shouting after the cabmen passing at a distance.
Hedidborrow,askingathousandfrancsofone,five hundredofanother,a hundredhere,fiftythere.Hesignedpromissorynotes,tookupruinousobligations, dealt with usurers and all the race of lenders. He compromised all the rest of his life, risked signing a note without even knowing whether he could meet it; and, frightened by the trouble yet to come, by the black misery that was about to fall uponhim,bytheprospectofallthephysicalprivationsandmoraltorturesthathe wastosuffer,hewenttobuythenewnecklace,layinguponthejeweler’scounter
WhenMadameLoiselreturnedthenecklace,MadameForestiersaidtoherin a faintly waspish tone, “You could have returned it a little sooner; I might have needed it.”
She did not open the case, as her friend had feared she might. If she had detected the substitution, what wouldshehave thought, what wouldshehave said?Would she not have taken Madame Loisel for a thief?
Thereafter,Madame Loisel came toknowthe awfullife ofthe poverty- stricken.Sheboreherpart,however,withunexpectedfortitude.Thedreadfuldebt mustbepaid.Shewouldpayit. Theydismissedtheirservantandtheychanged their lodgings, renting a garret under the roof.
Shecametoknowalltheheavyhouseholdchores,theloathsomeworkofthe kitchen.Shewashedthedishes,wearingdownherpinknailsongreasycasseroles and the bottoms of saucepans. She washed the soiled linen, the shirts and the dishcloths, which she dried upon a line; she carried the slops down to the street every morning and carried up the buckets of water, stopping for breath at every landing.Dressedlikeaworking-classwoman,shewenttothefruiterer,thegrocer, thebutcherwithherbasketonherarm,bargaining,outraged,contestingeachsou of her pitiful funds.
Every month they had to meet some notes, renew others, obtain more time. Her husband worked evenings, making up a tradesman’s accounts, and late at night he often copied manuscript for fivesous a page.
And it went on like that for ten years.
After ten years, they had paid everything, including the usurious rates and the compound interest.
Madame Loisel looked old now.Shehadbecomethewomanof impoverished households – strong andhardandrough. Withfrowsy hair, skirts askew and red hands, shetalkedloudwhilewashingthe
floorwithgreatswishesofwater.Butsometimes,whenherhusbandwasatthe office,shesatdownnearthewindowandshethoughtofthatthrillingeveningof long ago, of that ball where she had been so beautiful and so admired.
Howwouldthingshaveturnedoutifshehadn’tlostthatnecklace?Whocould tell? How strange and ficklelife is! How little it takes to make or break you!
Then one Sunday, having gone to take a walk along the Champs Elysées to refreshherselfafterthelaborsoftheweek,shesuddenlyperceivedawomanwho wasleading a child.It wasMadame Forestier, still young, still beautiful, still charming.
MadameLoiselstartedtotremble.Shouldshespeaktoher? Yes,certainly. And now that she had paid the debts, why shouldn’t she tell the whole story?
She approached her friend. “Hello, Jeanne.”
Theother,astonishedtobefamiliarly addressedbythisplainlydressed woman, did not recognize her at all and stammered, “But, madame, I do not know...You must have mistaken...”
“No. I am Mathilde Loisel.”
Her friend uttered a cry. “Oh, my poor Mathilde! How you’ve changed!”
“Yes, I’ve been through some pretty hard times since I last saw you and I’ve had plenty of trouble – and all because of you!”
“Because of me?What do you mean?”
“Do you remember that diamond necklace you lent me to wear to the ball at the Ministry?”
“Well, I lost it.”
“What do you mean?You brought it back.”
“No, I brought you back another exactly like it.And it has taken us ten years topayforit.Youcanunderstandthatitwasn’teasyforus,foruswhohadnothing. At last it is ended, though, and I am very glad.”
Madame Forestier stopped short.
“You say you bought a diamond necklace to replace the other one?” “Yes.You didn’t even notice then?They really were exactly alike.” And she smiled, full of a proud, simple joy.
Madame Forestier, profoundly moved, took Mathilde’s hands in her own. “Oh,mypoor,poorMathilde!Minewasfalse.Itwasworthfivehundred