Critical Overview

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By the time "The Necklace'' was first published, Maupassant had already established his reputation as one of France's foremost short story writers. Boule de suif, which appeared in an 1880 collection of stories by several authors, made him an instant member of the literary elite. "The Necklace,'' however, was considerably different from Maupassant's previous stories; its trick ending surprised many of his readers who were not used to such a jarring reversal of meaning at the end of a story. Other readers of Maupassant thought that the short story format was beneath him, and they would have preferred that he write novels instead.

American readers of the time, however, were fascinated by the author. The first English translation of Maupassant's stories, an 1888 collection entitled The Odd Number because it contained thirteen tales, included "The Necklace." In the book's introduction, Henry James, a prominent American writer and advocate of literary realism, praised the stories as "wonderfully concise and direct." Other critics were similarly enthusiastic, comparing Maupassant favorably with such American short story writers as Bret Harte and Sarah Orne Jewett.

Some critics, however, doubted that Maupassant's popularity would last. In an essay for the January 16, 1892, edition of the Illustrated London News, Irish novelist and critic George Moore insisted that Maupassant would be forgotten by the middle of the twentieth century. On the contrary, his popularity in the English-speaking world has never faltered, due in large part to frequent anthologizing of "The Necklace." In a 1939 survey of seventy-four authors by the journal Books Abroad, Maupassant tied with Homer and Walt Whitman for sixth place among the most influential writers of all time.

The continued popularity of "The Necklace" in the United States, however, eventually resulted in a skewed view of Maupassant's writing. Because, as some critics had predicted, many of his works were no longer well-known, he became associated with the surprise ending, even though he did not use it often. Although critics devoted to the short story genre continued to praise Maupassant for his mastery of style and plotting, those whose experience of Maupassant's works was limited to "The Necklace" began to dismiss him as a literary trickster. Indeed, despite renewed attention between World Wars I and II, Maupassant's reputation slipped considerably during the 1950s and 1960s, and his name was rarely mentioned outside of passing references in texts devoted to criticism of short story or realist fiction.

Interest in Maupassant was renewed in 1969 following a special publication of the journal Europe devoted to critical analyses of his works. A host of books, essays, and articles followed, but few paid significant attention to "The Necklace." Indeed, since 1980, only two articles have appeared that have focused primarily on "The Necklace"— a 1982 essay by Gerald Prince that examined the relationship between the characters and their names, and a 1985 article by Mary Donaldson-Evans that compared the story with Maupassant's 1883 tale ‘‘Les bijoux.’’

For a story that continues to be included often in modern anthologies, "The Necklace" has received little attention in recent decades, possibly because, as Edward Sullivan wrote in his 1974 presentation Maupassant et la nouvelle, it is too accessible to the public at large. Instead, modern critics tend to pay more attention to the works of Maupassant that were passed over during his lifetime, particularly his novels. Thus, a strange permutation of priorities has come about in Maupassant criticism; those texts that made his reputation, save a few select stories, are today largely ignored while those that were overlooked by his contemporaries are central to modern critical discussions.

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Critical Evaluation


Essays and Criticism