The Jewelry (or The False Gems) Characters
The main characters in “The Jewelry” (or “The False Gems”) include Monsieur and Madame Lantin and the first and second jewelers.
- Monsieur Lantin discovers that his late wife’s supposedly fake jewels are real. Selling them, he becomes rich and exaggerates his wealth to others.
- Madame Lantin is Monsieur Lantin’s supposedly modest wife. She has a love for the theater and “false” gems.
- The first jeweler inspects the necklace Monsieur Lantin brings to him and offers him 15,000 francs.
- The second jeweler informs Monsieur Lantin that he sold the necklace originally and purchases it back, along with the rest of Madame Lantin’s collection.
Last Updated on May 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 794
Monsieur Lantin is a virtuous public servant living in Paris, France. He earns a modest salary, but his wife, Madame Lantin, is very clever and frugal, and she’s able to stretch his earnings to meet their needs by keeping careful control of their finances. Monsieur Lantin admires her frugality and financial acumen a great deal—they’re very happy, and his love and respect for her only deepens over time. His only criticism of his wife is that she harbors two unnecessary habits: a love of the theater and a penchant for collecting fake jewelry. Monsieur Lantin finds the theater boring and the jewelry deceitful and extravagant. “You ought to appear adorned with your beauty and modesty alone,” he admonishes her, “which are the rarest ornaments of your sex.”
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When Madame Lantin dies unexpectedly of lung inflammation, Monsieur Lantin is absolutely heartbroken. His hair goes white within a month, he frequently breaks down crying, and he seems unable to discard her belongings. Without Madame Lantin’s careful control of the household budget, Monsieur Lantin begins to experience financial distress.
As he falls deeper into poverty, he realizes he needs to sell his late wife’s fake jewelry. When he does, another side of Monsieur Lantin emerges entirely: he’d previously valued virtue, modesty, and frugality, but this conviction is completely upended when he realizes Madame Lantin’s “fake” jewels have value after all. Instead of virtue, he begins to fixate on wealth and prestige. He accumulates a large sum of money, but he is so transfixed by the feeling of plenty that he inflates his fortune to sound bigger and bigger each time he speaks of it to someone new.
Madame Lantin, introduced to the narrative as “the young girl,” is Monsieur Lantin’s first wife. The daughter of a tax collector, she’s exceptionally frugal, extremely virtuous, and particularly beautiful. Monsieur Lantin can’t imagine a better wife for himself than the quiet, honorable young girl, and the two of them live comfortably in wedded bliss on his civil servant’s salary. “He was unspeakably happy with her,” the author writes. “The imperceptible smile which constantly hovered about [her] lips seemed to be the reflection of a pure and lovely soul.”
For all her virtuousness and frugality, Madame Lantin has two vices that irritate her husband: a love of the theater and a growing collection of imitation jewelry. The jewelry, in particular, delights her, and new pieces are constantly appearing in the Lantin home. Madame Lantin herself readily exclaims, “What can I do? I am so fond of jewelry.”
One winter, Madame Lantin attends an opera and returns home feeling unwell. Days later, she dies of lung inflammation. Her husband is devastated, mourns for her, and finds it difficult to make ends meet without her “clever economy” in her management of the finances.
When he falls into poverty after her death and has to sell some of her fake jewelry, he’s astonished to discover that she’s been deceiving him for years—the jewelry is all real, and it is worth a fortune. Monsieur Lantin feels sick when he realizes that his wife must have been receiving expensive gifts from someone else all this time, although the exact provenance of the jewelry is left undetermined.
The First Jeweler
The first unnamed jeweler inspects Madame Lantin’s necklace carefully, consults with a colleague, and—to Monsieur Lantin’s astonishment—offers him 15,000 francs. Monsieur Lantin leaves the shop, assuming that the jeweler is a fraud who can’t tell the difference between real and fake gems. The jeweler encourages Monsieur Lantin to take the piece elsewhere for another valuation, but to return to his shop if he can’t do any better.
The Second Jeweler
Monsieur Lantin visits a second unnamed jeweler, who astonishes him further: the necklace is worth 18,000 francs. He knows for certain, because he himself sold it for 20,000 francs not long ago. He asks Monsieur Lantin if he’s willing to leave the necklace overnight for inspection, and when Monsieur Lantin returns, he gladly pays him for the necklace in cash.
When Monsieur Lantin asks if the jeweler would be interested in seeing the rest of the collection, he’s enthusiastic. He pays a shocked Monsieur Lantin 143,000 francs for Madame Lantin’s jewelry. “There was a person who invested all her savings in precious stones,” the jeweler jokes as they finish the transaction.
Monsieur Lantin’s Second Wife
Six months after Monsieur Lantin sells Madame Lantin’s jewelry and quits his job, he marries for the second time. His new wife, unnamed in the narrative, is again very virtuous, but differs in temperament from her predecessor. She is of “a violent temper,” the author writes, and “cause[s] him much sorrow.”