Mathilde Loisel is ashamed of their humble lifestyle, including the fact that she can only employ a single ignorant, untrained girl to do her housework.
The sight of the little Breton peasant who did her humble housework aroused in her despairing regrets and bewildering dreams. She thought of silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, illumined by tall bronze candelabra, and of two great footmen in knee breeches who sleep in the big armchairs, made drowsy by the oppressive heat of the stove.
Yet, when her husband borrows a huge sum of money from various sources in order to replace the lost diamond necklace, they have to economize in every possible way to repay all their debts with the accumulating interest. One of the ways in which Mathilde economizes is by discharging the little Breton peasant girl and doing the "humble housework" herself.
Thereafter Madame Loisel knew the horrible existence of the needy. She bore her part, however, with sudden heroism. That dreadful debt must be paid. She would pay it. They dismissed their servant; they changed their lodgings; they rented a garret under the roof.
Doing the dirty work of housekeeping is one of the things that causes Mathilde to lose her beauty. It is especially hard on her soft, white hands. It affects her graceful posture and her beautiful figure.
She came to know what heavy housework meant and the odious cares of the kitchen. She washed the dishes, using her dainty fingers and rosy nails on greasy pots and pans. She washed the soiled linen, the shirts and the dishcloths, which she dried upon a line; she carried the slops down to the street every morning and carried up the water, stopping for breath at every landing.
Formerly she had been dissatisfied with having only one maid to do the heaviest part of the housekeeping. She didn't realize how well off she had been until she started doing the work herself. Housework in those days was much more difficult than it is today. There were, of course, no washing machines, and doing the laundry was an all-day ordeal once a week. She had to wash and iron her husband's shirts. She had to wash sheets and hang them out on a line somewhere to dry. Washing involved heating water on the stove and then scrubbing every item on a scruboard. The kind of soap they had in those days was bound to make the beautiful Mathilde's hands and arms look red and coarse. But washing was only one part of her duties. Evidently she had sent the maid to do the grocery shopping. Now she had to visit the various shops every day and lug the food home in a basket. Then she had to cut and pare and chop. They had moved to a garret in order to save on rent, so this meant that she had to walk up and down numerous flights of stairs. Many of the apartment buildings in Paris had six floors, so she would be walking up and down as many as six flights of stairs several times a day. Since they didn't have running water, she would have had to go downstairs and bring back one heavy bucket of cold water at a time, and she had the nasty job of carrying the "slops," that is the chamber pot, down to the street every morning. The slops in those days may have been emptied directly onto the unpaved street, and then, of course, the chamber pot would have to be scrubbed clean. Her life was certainly a far cry from the kind she had dreamt of in the days when
She thought of silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, illumined by tall bronze candelabra, and of two great footmen in knee breeches who sleep in the big armchairs, made drowsy by the oppressive heat of the stove.
Firing the maid was one of the radical economies Mathilde had to make, since all the dirty work suddenly became her responsibility. But Maupassant emphasizes that she and her husband had to squeeze every sou in order to meet the debts they had incurred.