The Jewelry (or The False Gems)

by Guy de Maupassant

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In de Maupassant's "The Jewelry" does anything about Mme. Latin's supposed infidelity and her husband's reaction to it seem strange or foreign? What, on the other hand, is recognizable and familiar about the character's reaction? 

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What seems "recognizable and familiar about the character's [Monsieur Latin's] reaction" to his discovery of his deceased wife's infidelity and deception is mainly that he decides to accept and enjoy the money he is able to obtain from all her supposedly false jewelry. Why not? There is nothing he could do to erase her infidelity now. He is retrospectively jealous and made to feel foolish, but he must reflect that she always treated him exceptionally well and that she left him a fortune. It is probably worth noting that she never presented him with a child, so he wouldn't have been tormented by the thought that the boy or girl might not be his. If her infidelity causes him to feel less love for her, that is all the more reason why he should accept the money to be obtained from the jewelry. Most of us males would have to have superhuman codes of honor to refuse to accept those jewels or that money. Money talks! The husband was having a good time while she was alive, and she was having a good time herself, a better time than he realized. Nothing seems strange or foreign in M. Latin's reaction.

What does seem a little strange in the story is the fact that a married woman would be able to get such valuable gifts from her many lovers. How did she meet such wealthy men? Or was there, perhaps, only one man who gave her all those gifts? That would seem more likely, since she wouldn't have many opportunities to circulate in a world where she would meet a number of men who would not only want her favors but would also be willing to give her such fabulous gifts. She was undoubtedly attractive, but she was not a peerless beauty, like Cleopatra or Helen of Troy, or she wouldn't have been married to such a mediocre husband. 

What does not seem strange or foreign to Madame Latin's behavior is the fact that she was evidently carrying on an affair with a wealthy man. A lot of women do this sort of thing, as well as a lot of men. There is something about illicit extramarital affairs that is tempting and exciting to both men and women--and women must be guilty of engaging in them about as often as men. Men, in fact, are more likely to go for "one-night stands" and to try to avoid getting entangled in long-term affairs for selfish reasons. Dmitri Gurov in Chekhov's famous short story "The Lady with a Pet Dog" may be an exception. He was only looking for a temporary adventure but got caught emotionally.

It seems a bit strange or foreign that Madame Latin could get by with spending so much on gourmet foods and wines as well as other luxuries without arousing her husband's suspicions. She had to be unusually clever about deceiving him. She must have gotten some secret pleasure out of both kinds of deception--deceiving him with a secret lover and deceiving him with her miraculous domestic economy. It would appear that the lover was providing her with cash as well as fine jewelry. This other man must have been really loaded with money or else he must have been totally crazy about Madame Latin. She was strangely lucky in finding one man in a million who would cover her with jewels and give her handfuls of gold coins as well. 

It does not seem strange or foreign that Madame Latin is so fascinated by jewelry. This seems to be a fairly common trait among women. They love jewelry, and they even collect whole boxes of junk jewelry if they can't afford the real thing. Madame Latin's fondling of her collection of jewels is reminiscent of Madame Loisel's inspection of her friend Madame Forestier's collection in her big jewel box in Maupassant's story "The Necklace," which seems almost like a companion piece of "The Jewelry." 

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"She would examine the false gems with a passionate attention as though they were in some way connected with a deep and secret joy...." This sentence encapsulates the tight irony that becomes meaningful only at the end of Maupassant's narrative. For, in his vain convictions, Monsieur Latin deludes himself about his wife's "clever economy." Indeed, he seems to choose to believe that Madame Latin is a devoted, thrifty wife because she brings him such comfort and joy, only feeling "inclined to blame her for two things: her love of the theater, and a taste for false jewelry." 

After her death, he is inconsolable. Yet retaining his vain delusions about his wife, in his sudden penury M. Latin only wonders how his wife was able to purchase the fine wines that she did and manage their household so well. When he becomes desperate, he decides to sell her "paste jewels," hoping to attain a few francs. However, after he learns the jewelry is, indeed, genuine and of great value, he is shaken, as would be expected,

The earth seemed to tremble beneath him,--the tree before him was falling--throwing up his arms, he fell to the ground, unconscious.

However, hunger overcomes his shame, and the next day M. Latin returns to the jeweler who has offered eighteen thousand francs for a necklace. It is apparent that greed overcomes the grief and humiliation of M. Latin wrought by his wife.

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