Maupassant's "The Necklace" ethics

For those of you who haven’t read this story, it’s about a woman who borrows a jeweled necklace to go to a fancy ball. She loses the necklace and, instead of owning up to it, borrows money and replaces it. Said lady then spends the rest of her life living in near poverty because of this. Years later, she sees the lady she borrowed the necklace from. The situation comes up in conversation, and it is revealed that the necklace borrowed wasn’t expensive jewelry at all, but a well-made reproduction made of paste and glass!

Anyway, I got to thinking about this story last night, and I’m wondering what the woman who loaned the necklace did after she heard the news. You loan out a 30 dollar necklace and are returned an identical necklace (albeit one made of “the real stuff” worth $5,000. Is this woman obliged to return this expensive necklace or sell it and give the borrower the difference? Or is it the borrower’s loss?

Someone spent their life living in abject poverty over buying a $5000 necklace? I mean, I’m not pretending I’d like to spend that much money on most anything in one go, but I know few people whose lives would be ruined indefinitely over such an expenditure - even the super, mega poor people I know (assuming they could even get the money together- take out a loan, whatever).

And I think the right answer is to return the expensive necklace to the apparently homeless lady who bought it for you, since she needs it more than you.

No hesitation-choice #1.

Okay. How would you change your answer if it was $500,000?

Remember this is 19th-century France, too. Not exactly an empowering society especially for a woman.

Same answer.

My reply was written before you posted, Czar-baby :wink: Wasn’t trying to influence your answer.

I guess I’d say, first answer.

Also that I really hate these miserable-debacle stories. I can’t decide which story is worse, this one or The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol.

Obviously the shopkeeper is obligated to inform the lady, return the authentic necklace and accept a $30 replacement fee instead. That said, none of this would have happened if the loaner wasn’t a compulsive liar and decided to make shit up for no possible reason, instead of just owning up to an honest mistake and offer compensation. While the shopkeeper did act unethically (assuming she actually knew the customer was lying), the lady brought it on herself by her own unethical (and stupid) behavior.

Only a sociopath would keep the necklace.

And I’m sure that, in the universe of the story, the owner gave it back as soon as she could. She is clearly dismayed, if not horrified, by what happened and holds herself partly at fault.

You try making $5000 in 1884.

The woman in the story (Mathilde Loisel) wasn’t unethical in losing the necklace. It was simply an error. And she didn’t borrow it from a shopkeeper, but a wealthy friend (Jeanne Forester). FYI, you can read the story here; it was always one of my favorites.

And yes, Mme. Forester should probably give the fancy one to Mme. Loisel. Although that’s not the point of the story. Immediately after the party, M. Loisel had very good prospects and their lives would have been very different had they not had to spend their lives in repaying the debts.

Touché. I thought this Guy de Maupassant story was a well-known classic! (The year I first read it was almost closer to 1884 than to 2010. :smack:)

BTW, in the story she pays 36,000 francs to replace the diamond necklace, then spends 10 years working off a debt. Don’t know what 36,000 francs was in 1884 dollars let alone current dollars.

Losing the necklace was an error, but lying about it was entirely her own choice. Yes, it was incredibly stupid and probably against her own best interest in this case, but I would still consider lying to be unethical by default unless there is some kind of “nazis-at-the-door, jews-in-the-attic” thing going on. The punishment didn’t really fit the crime in this case, but she still has herself to blame.

It is that twist (she should have confessed instead of secretly replacing the necklace) that makes this story so gut wrenching. Is it 100% certain that secretly making an in-kind replacement of a lost item is unethical? I’m not sure that it is a question of ethics as such. But anyway…

Yes Mme. Forester should sell the necklace, and give the proceeds to Mme. Loisel. Or just give her the necklace though I assume she could never bear to look at it much less wear it.

Mme. Loisel tried to do the honorable thing by replacing the necklace, although of course, she would have been better off to confess to losing it. Dishonest, yes. But unethical? I don’t think so.

I can’t find the exchange rate from exactly 1884, but it was five francs to the dollar in 1913 and I’m guessing it was fairly stable before that. The US CPI was 27 in 1884 and 658 today so say $175,000. And that understates things somewhat, since we’re more affluent (in real terms) these days due to economic growth.

So basically you have a modest, one-income white-collar couple taking on the debt of a good-sized house, and getting nothing in return. That would have about the same effect on a couple today, as it did in the story.


The story is presented as a tragedy, but it could certainly have a happy ending. Unless the rich woman is a complete heel, she’ll return either the necklace or the cash equivalent to Madame Loisel. Who will not only then become much wealthier than she ever dreamed, but better able to appreciate it after a decade in poverty. She will have benefited from a very felicitous enforced saving program, and a little attitude adjustment as well.

I’ve never heard of the story in the OP, so I’m not sure how I could have known that.

The truly honorable thing would have been to confess to losing the necklace and advise the owner that she would replace it. Had she done this, presumably the owner would have told her up front that the necklace was an imitation.

No. If Mathilde Loisel was the kind of person who deserved an expensive diamond necklace, she would have had one, and not had to borrow it. The fact of having to work off the debt just hastened the process of making her into who she was destined to be, and it was NOT a person who would own a diamond necklace. And the woman who loaned the necklace was probably horrified, but not all that surprised, since I’ll bet she knew from the start that Mathilde was NOK.

What does NOK mean?

So then, when Mme Loiselle tells her that the necklace was real, she turns, looks horrified and says that she got rid of it years ago.

I always thought it would just have been better to confess to losing it and offer to replace it. I can’t help but think that the original owner of the necklace would not have noticed the difference between the original piece of costume jewelry and the high quality replacement piece, even if they looked similar.