Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesday: Guy De Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and Henry James tell the same story, differently.

Its three for the price of one this week. Three formidable writers take on a single theme and give it entirely different shades.  It all started with Guy De Maupassant who was a prolific writer with a special talent for short stories. One of his most famous stories is The Necklace. Somerset Maugham and Henry James both put their own spin on this fable and came out with two stories that are very distinct in style and treatment. The characters, setting and motives are all changed but the necklace stays .

The Necklace by Guy De Maupassant
This is the story of Madame Mathilde Loisel who aspires to be one among the rich and fashionable. She is, however, married to a lowly but loving clerk. One day, she and her husband finally manage to get themselves invited to a very swish party. Unwilling to go unadorned, she borrows a necklace from her wealthy friend. As ill luck would have it, the necklace is lost by the end of the party and Mathilde and her husband’s life is forever changed. For more on this story I’m going to lead you to Mel U’s excellent review of it HERE.  You can read the story online HERE.

A String of Beads by Somerset Maugham
Miss Robinson is a well mannered and well liked governess in a wealthy household. One night, she is invited to dine with the family and a few of their distinguished guests. One of these guests is Miss Lyngate who is particularly proud of the pearls she is wearing. Shockingly Count Borselli, an expert on jewellery, seems more impressed with Miss Robinson’s string of beads than with Miss Lyngate’s precious pearls. He insists the beads are the real thing but how could a governess afford anything so expensive? Surely it is a mistake. Well it is a mistake, and a very fortunate one for Miss Robinson.
I couldn't find it online but there is an eBook you could download.

Paste by Henry James
Charlotte is given a tin of cheap costume jewellery that belonged to her late aunt, by her cousin Arthur.  But a string of pearls among them seems too beautiful to be just paste. However Arthur insists that they are worthless. So Charlotte seeks the advice of Mrs Guy, a woman who was sure to know about such things. Mrs Guy agrees with Charlotte’s assessment of the pearls and advises her to hang onto them. Honest Charlotte cannot repay Arthur’s generosity with deceit.  But she soon learns that not everyone has similar scruples.
You can find Paste HERE.

As I stated before, almost everything except the necklace itself is different in each of these versions. The most striking difference is in the three female protagonists. Mathilde is a pretentious and petulant woman making it hard for us to sympathise with her. Miss Robinson is generally liked but her story is less about her character and more about a stroke of luck. Lastly, Charlotte is a woman of real moral integrity and goodness but Henry James does not turn this into a moral tale. Ultimately, the real common thread running through these stories is the underlying idea of inanimate jewels profoundly affecting human lives.


  1. What a wonderful post. I'm sure Agatha C. has something about a woman and jewels, too. :<)

  2. AGH I had to read The Necklace in 7th grade and it STILL kills me. Can't even think about it.

  3. Nan Has she? I would love to read Christie's take on this.

    Alice I know what you mean but the other two stories are not so tragic.

  4. This is a really interesting post that makes people want to read these stories-of these I have read only the de Maupassant version-it is a powerful story-I will see out the other two-thanks for providing links

  5. I like how you've juxtaposed the stories together. I've read de Maupassant's story (though I agree that the main character isn't that sympathetic, what an ouch moment for her!); and now I'll go read the other two - the Henry James story sounds especially interesting.

  6. Thank you ever so much for the links. I couldn't find the ebook link but the two others are saved for reading (when I do not have internet over the weekend)

  7. Mel U thanks for leading me to the de Maupassant story.

    HKatz I liked the Henry James one the best.

    Mystica enjoy the stories and your internet-free time.

  8. What a great post - I really enjoyed the way you linked the three tales together. I'm going to give them a read as soon as I've got a little time (off to work now unfortunately!). I'm a new follower.

  9. I've only read The Necklace, but now I'm intrigued by the other two. I love that so many short stories are available on line. I'll have to see if I can get the second one for my Nook. I love both Maugham and James.