Mathilde Loisel's life before the ball was humble but comfortable. She "dressed plainly because she could not dress well," but she was not wanting, even employing a servant and owning a dress in which she could go to the theatre on occasion. Her husband was a clerk who made enough to support them, but not enough with which to endow her with the luxuries she coveted. Their abode was simple, their furniture worn, but there was always plenty of food on the table, and her husband, at least, was quite satisfied. He worked hard at his job, saving his money for small pleasures from time to time for himself and his wife.
After the ball, Mathilde's life became a nightmare. Saddled by a huge debt, her husband was forced to take extra work in the evenings and at night, and the couple was forced to let their single servant go and exchange their lodgings for "a garret under the roof." Mathilde herself had to go to work as well; "she came to know what heavy housework meant." She became a servant for others, washing dishes, doing the laundry, carrying the slops down to the street every morning, and doing the shopping "dressed like a woman of the people." For ten years Mathilde and her husband slaved to pay off the debt, and at the end of that time, Mathilde "looked old...a woman of impoverished households." Had she only been satisfied with the life she had in the beginning, she might have lived in comfort all those years, and retained at least a vestige of her youth.