Sunday, November 06, 2005

What Happiness Is and Isn't--Explained by Aesthetic Realism (4th installment)

And here's the next section of this paper.

“The idea that one’s ability to like the world depends on being made supreme in it is here,” said Ellen Reiss, and she asked, “What is it a child coming into this world is born for? Is it to see meaning in the world, or to dazzle the world?” Mme. Loisel thinks it’s the second, and so she agrees when her husband says she might ask to borrow some jewels from her rich friend, Mme. Forestier, whom she rarely visited “because she suffered so much” by the contrast between their situations. Generously, her friend shows her a box full of gold, pearls and precious stones, saying, “Choose, my dear.” Yet, despite their beauty, she still asked, “Haven't you any more?”

All of a sudden she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb necklace of diamonds, and her heart began to beat with an immoderate desire. Her hands trembled as she took it. She fastened it around her throat, outside her high-necked dress, and remained lost in ecstasy at the sight of herself.
Then she asked, hesitating, filled with anguish:
“Can you lend me that, only that?”

And she does. Mme. Loisel has now within her grasp what she thinks will make her happy. At the ball, she dazzles many men.

She danced with intoxication, with passion, made drunk by pleasure, forgetting all, in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success, in a sort of cloud of happiness composed of all this homage, of all this admiration, of all these awakened desires, and of that sense of complete victory which is so sweet to woman's heart.

This is a description of a certain notion of happiness. Mr. Siegel writes:
The feeling of being agog in an honest fashion belongs to happiness. There is a desire to be gloriously dizzy and exaltingly abandoned. But not going to be got by shortcuts....There is no porch climbing to happiness.” [TRO 1011]

And so, as they leave the ball at 4 a.m. and return home, she feels “All was ended for her. And as to him, he reflected that he must be at the Ministry at ten o'clock.” Inside their apartment,

She removed the wraps, which covered her shoulders, before the glass, so as once more to see herself in all her glory. But suddenly she uttered a cry. She had no longer the necklace around her neck!
Her husband, already half undressed, demanded:
“What is the matter with you?”
She turned madly toward him:
“I have—I have—I've lost Mme. Forestier's necklace.”

Her husband goes back over their route, trying to find it.
He went to Police Headquarters, to the newspaper offices, to offer a reward; he went to the cab companies—everywhere, in fact, whither he was urged by the least suspicion of hope.
She waited all day, in the same condition of mad fear before this terrible calamity.
Loisel returned at night with a hollow, pale face; he had discovered nothing.

Rather than admit they have lost the necklace, they decide they must replace it, no matter how much it costs—hoping Mme. Forestier won’t notice.
They went from jeweler to jeweler, searching for a necklace like the other,...sick both of them with chagrin and with anguish. [At last] they found...a string of diamonds which seemed to them exactly like the one they looked for. It was worth forty thousand francs. They could have it for thirty-six.

Spending all their savings, entering into “ruinous obliga¬tions,” borrowing from usurers. M. Loisel “compromised all the rest of his life” to pay for this diamond necklace. To their relief, Mme. Forestier doesn’t notice the substitution.