"The Umbrella" is a short story written by Guy de Maupassant. It is set in Paris in the 1880s, and it is a subtle and observant comic tale about a woman, Mme. Oreille, and the trials and tribulations she has with an umbrella.
Mme. Oreille is married; her husband is long-suffering, for she is a miser with their finances, and though he works as an upper clerk at the War Office, they are well-off and have plenty of money, for she rarely allows Oreille to spend it. At the start of the story, Mme. Oreille is described as
a little woman of about forty, very active, rather hasty, wrinkled, very neat and tidy, and with a very short temper.
These initial character descriptions account for many of Mme. Oreille's actions and reactions during the story. However, her desire to save money is a driving force in her personality. It pains her to see any money spent—"it was like tearing at her heartstrings when she had to take any of those nice crown-pieces out of her pocket"—and she sleeps poorly when she has to spend any money at all. She is obsessed with money.
The plot turns around a new umbrella that Mme. Oreille—after many arguments and discussions—finally agrees to allow her husband to purchase to take to the office on rainy days. Almost immediately, a series of mysterious accidents befall the umbrella, and it is ruined, its fabric covered with tiny burn holes.
Mme. Oreille chokes with rage when she sees the condition of the umbrella. She shouts at her husband:
Oh! you brute! you brute! You did it on purpose, but I will pay you out for it. You shall not have another.
She is quite short-tempered, suggesting she will take revenge on her husband for ruining the umbrella and stating that a replacement for the one he has ruined is out of the question.
A friend who visits for dinner suggest that they take the umbrella to the Fire Insurance office and see if they can make a claim for the damages.
Mme. Oreille is determined to do this. Yet "she was very timid before people, and grew red at a mere nothing, and was embarrassed when she had to speak to strangers." Despite her timidity (in public, anyway), she girds herself up and heads to the Assurance Company, where she is sent to the claims department.
The claims manager, after hearing her invented tale about an accidental fire that burnt the umbrella, secretly suspects she is lying but eventually is worn down by her insistence that he help her and advises her to go have the umbrella recovered, and they will pay for the bill.
Happy, Mme. Oreille marches off to have the umbrella recovered. The final joke in the tale is that she finds a first class shop and confidently tells them:
I want this umbrella recovered in silk, good silk. Use the very best and strongest you have; I don’t mind what it costs.
So it turns out Mme. Oreille has no problem spending money that is not actually hers. She likes to get her money's worth.