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October 01, 2017 Sunday 11:59:17 AM IST

Mathilde’s Necklace: Story of a Life Less Lived


The story of the necklace is not preachy. Nor is its tone judgmental. It holds up a mirror where we can see ourselves for what we are.In our pursuit for the mundane, we miss the real joys of life, our time with our families and the time we owe others.


Mathilde was exquisitely beautiful. Even without jewellery which she could not afford she looked like a princess. Wherever she went she was the cynosure of all eyes. Men admired her. Women were jealous of her. She was married to a government clerk who had a steady income. However, Mathilde was not happy as her husband’s income was not sufficient to meet her extravagant needs.


Mathilde always dreamt about wearing diamonds and attending banquets for the rich. In fact, she did not hesitate to reveal her dreams to her husband Loisel who was always sympathetic to her fancies. One day when Loisel came home after his work he had a beaming smile on his face.


Handing an envelope to his wife he said, “Here is an invitation to attend a banquet given by the government!”


Loisel expected the good news would cheer her up and she would jump for joy. But that is not what happened. Instead of jumping for joy she stood there feeling sad.


“What’s this?” Loisel asked her. “I thought you would be overjoyed at the news of the invitation.”


“Why should I be overjoyed?” She asked glaring at his face.


“Do I have anything to wear?” “So you need to buy a new dress?”


Ignoring her hidden anger Loisel said.


“How much will it cost?”


Sensing her husband was not unhappy to buy a new dress for her she said casually, “Four hundred francs.”


He had exactly four hundred francs in his account with which he had planned to buy a hunting rifle.


“Alright,” he said.


“I will give you four hundred francs. You go and buy what you like.”


This time she was overjoyed and acknowledged her gratitude with a tight embrace and kiss. However, as the banquet day approached closer she looked unhappy.


“What’s the matter?” Loisel asked.


“How can I go for the banquet without wearing any jewelry?” she said avoiding eye contact. “Why don’t you wear some flowers instead of jewelry” he asked innocently.


“No, I will not go wearing flowers,” she said categorically.


“In that case why don’t you borrow some jewellery from your friend Madame Forestier?” he asked.


They went to the banquet with a borrowed diamond necklace from Madame Forestier. They had a wonderful time attending the banquet and Mathilde was the cynosure of all eyes as she had expected. But when they returned home Mathilde had the shock of her life. The diamond necklace she wore at the banquet was missing.


For the next few days they searched for the necklace at the banquet hall as well as at other places where she had gone wearing it. But they could not find it. So they went to different jewellery shops one after another looking for a diamond necklace which was similar to the one Mathilde had borrowed.


Finally they found a necklace with a price tag of forty thousand francs which was similar to the one she wore during the banquet. It was beyond their means to buy such an expensive necklace. But since they had no other choice they bought it by borrowing money from different people at high interest rates. Then they gave the necklace to Madame Forestier without telling her that it was a replacement for the lost one.


It took ten years for them to pay back the loans for which Loisel had to work extra hours every day. Mathilde also chipped in with her small income from doing all kinds of menial jobs. When we read this story by the French author Guy de Maupassant under the title The Necklace, we may feel sorry for Loisel and Mathilde. Then we might also wonder why Mathilde went after her extravagant fancies when she was already blessed with a husband who loved her dearly and worked hard to support the family.


But before we venture to blame Mathilde for her vanity and worldly ambitions we must also ask ourselves whether we are like her. It seems there are many of us who always go for vainglory and spend money extravagantly even when we don’t have enough income to meet our basic needs. Of course, we must always do our level best to make our lives comfortable and happy. However, we must also learn to be content with what we have and avoid doing things which others do who have the wherewithal to do it.


Let me now come back to the story of Mathilde. After Loisel and Mathilde had bought a necklace for Madame Forestier in the place of the lost one, Mathilde never made any contact with her for the next ten years. But then when she met Madame Forestier she told her how she and her husband bought a necklace in the place of the lost one and how they had to work hard for ten years to pay back their debts.


Then Madame Forestier asked Mathilde, “Why did you not tell me at that time? The diamond necklace I gave you was an imitation worth less than five hundred francs!”


Mathilde suffered much for no reason. In fact it was much ado about nothing. But then originally what she did also was much ado about nothing. Let us not forget this story of Mathilde as it will help us avoid big fuss over trifles.

Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, CMI

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