The Jewelry (or The False Gems)

by Guy de Maupassant

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What is “the woman question” in “The False Gems” by Guy de Maupassant? How is it a critique or a reflection of women’s life in nineteenth-century France?

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“The woman question” refers to the debate over women’s roles in society and how they changed (or not) over time. This theme certainly figures in to Guy De Maupassant’s story “The False Gems” (also called “The Jewelry”). Let’s see how that works.

Madame Lantin seems to be a perfect wife. She has a “simple beauty” and “the charm of angelic modesty.” She cares well for the household and for the family budget, stretching her husband’s modest salary as far as it needs to go.

Yet there are two things about Madame Lantin that bother her husband, two things that set her outside the normal role of a wife. He is disturbed by her love of the theater and by her collection of what he thinks is costume jewelry. These two things rankle a bit, yet Madame Lantin will not relent from either, and her husband must simply accept her oddities.

When Madame Lantin dies quite suddenly, Monsieur Lantin falls on hard times. He is not nearly as good at budgeting as his wife was, and the money seems to slip right through his fingers. He ends up poor and finally decides to sell some of his wife's jewelry. He does not expect to get much from it, but even a little will help. To Monsieur Lantin’s shock, the jewelry is not fake. It is precious and worth a great deal of money. Clearly, Madame Lantin was not what she appeared on the surface. She must have received these pieces as a gift from some admirer, and while her husband does not care to admit it, this fine jewelry points to his wife’s unfaithfulness.

Monsieur Lantin reconciles himself to that fact eventually and to his new wealth. He marries again, but his new wife, too, has her flaws. Her temper is horrible.

We can see, then, that the women in this story are presented as having two sides. Madame Lantin has her role in the household, which seems to correspond to what society expects of her, but she also has a secret. She is far more independent than her husband ever suspects, and she asserts that independence through her insistence on going to the theater and through her supposed affair. Monsieur Lantin’s second wife also has the “womanly” virtues, but she has a major flaw, too. We see both a reflection and a critique of women and their roles.

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