The Necklace


Guy de Maupassant

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The Necklace Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Guy de Maupassant's The Necklace. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Guy de Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant was born to a wealthy family in Tourville-sur-Arques, France, in 1850. Maupassant demonstrated an early interest in literature as a high school student in Rouen, where he began writing poetry and acted in several plays. In 1867, he was introduced to the prominent French novelist Gustave Flaubert, who took the young Maupassant under his wing and encouraged him to study law in Paris. His education was interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, during which time Maupassant served as an officer in the artillery corps. After the war, Maupassant returned to Paris where Flaubert introduced him to other important novelists in the realist and naturalist schools, including Émile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, and Edmond de Goncourt. It was also during this period that Maupassant began his career as a journalist, devoting his spare time to writing novels and short stories. In 1880 Maupassant published his first masterpiece, “Boule de suif,” a short story inspired by his involvement in the Franco-Prussian war that catapulted the young author into literary celebrity. Over the next ten years Maupassant wrote prodigiously, earning wealth for himself and admiration from his contemporaries: Leo Tolstoy called Maupassant’s first novel One Life “the best French novel since [Victor] Hugo’s Les Misérables.” Maupassant was especially well-known for his short stories, which were notable for their pessimistic take on human and social life. In his later years Maupassant began to suffer from extreme paranoia and other health complications, probably due to the syphilis that he had contracted in youth. After a failed suicide attempt in 1892, he was committed to an asylum in Paris where he died in 1893.
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Historical Context of The Necklace

The work of Realist writers is generally seen as a reaction to the idealism of the Romantic period. Instead of focusing on emotion and subjectivity like the Romantics, Realist writers were more interested in objective descriptions of reality. Works of Realist literature often depict characters from middle or lower class society involved in everyday activities, rather than the heroic aristocrats of Romantic works such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (1790) or François-René de Chateaubriand’s René (1802). Stylistically, “The Necklace” is a classic example of Realist literature. In addition, “The Necklace” takes place in late-nineteenth century Paris, a highly unequal and class-based society. The upper classes were populated by wealthy and powerful capitalists, leaving very little room for the rest of the population. “The Necklace” faithfully depicts this extreme inequality as Mathilde Loisel moves between the upper and lower classes.

Other Books Related to The Necklace

As a work of realist fiction, “The Necklace” is stylistically similar to the major works of the realist movement, including several volumes of Honoré de Balzac’s Comédie humaine (1830–1856) and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856). Flaubert’s influence is especially important given the role he played as a literary mentor to Maupassant. Indeed, “The Necklace” has been described as a miniature Madame Bovary, since both are stories about dissatisfied middle-class women whose delusions of wealth and grandeur lead them to ruin. Mathilde’s disastrous social ambition also echoes an earlier work of French literature, Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (1830), which tells the story of a young man from the province who rises to prominence in Parisian society, but who is ultimately betrayed by his passions. Finally, “The Necklace” has influenced many authors through its lasting popularity: Henry James’s “Paste” (1899) is a retelling of the story where the twist ending is reversed, and Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Ada or Ardor (1969) features a character who claims she has written a short story mimicking Maupassant’s original.
Key Facts about The Necklace
  • Full Title: The Necklace
  • When Written: 1884
  • Where Written: Paris
  • When Published: 1884
  • Literary Period: Literary realism
  • Genre: Realism
  • Setting: Paris
  • Climax: The lost necklace that Mathilde Loisel spends ten years trying to pay for is revealed to be a fake.
  • Antagonist: Social ambition, greed, and false appearances
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for The Necklace

Name Change: Although both of Maupassant’s parents were wealthy, neither one of them was an aristocrat. It was Maupassant’s mother who urged her husband to obtain the right to use the nobiliary particle, so that their name changed from “Maupassant” to “de Maupassant.”

Epitaph: Maupassant wrote his own epitaph: “I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing.”