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Literature / The Woman with the Velvet Necklace

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La Femme au collier de velours is a 19th century French novel by Alexandre Dumas, père. A recognized classic of the "Fantastique" genre.

Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, commonly just "Hoffmann," is a German art student/musician/poet Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life with his friend Werner. Hoffmann and Werner plan on going to Paris, but most plans are put off by a lack of funds. However, just when they're ready to go, Hoffmann falls in Love at First Sight with Antonia, a pure and sweet musician's daughter, and stays behind in Germany to prepare for their wedding while Werner trots off to Paris. It isn't long, though, before Hoffmann itches to join Werner. Antonia lets him go, with only two conditions, and it's off to Paris!

Just one thing Hoffmann forgot about. The French Revolution is in full swing.


His very first day, he witnesses the beheading of Madame Du Barry, and is deeply disturbed. Unable to take in the art in the museums, and with no way to find his friend Werner, he goes to the Opera, where he finds Arsène. She's incredibly beautiful, absolutely unattainable, and Hoffmann doesn't take long to decide he must have her. What follows is one man's descent into vice, lust, and the frenzy of Paris during the Terror — and, possibly, complete insanity.


Tropes Used in This Work Include:

  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Arsène, Antonia, and Mme du Barry.
  • Captain Obvious: The snuffbox had snuff in it!.
  • Celibate Hero: Hoffman will not pursue any romances other than with Antonia. Or so he promises.
  • Compensating for Something: See the note about pipes below.
  • Contrived Coincidence: He just happens to run into his friend Werner in Paris when neither knows where to find the other — then when he loses Arsène he happens to find her again in the Place de la Révolution.
  • Dead All Along: Arsène is dead — or possibly not even real — from the moment that Hoffmann found her in the Place de la Révolution.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Hoffmann has trouble getting through to France. So he takes out his pipe — his big, hefty pipe like all Germans have — and shows it to the French border patrol, who are stunned because they have such little, ineffectual pipes. They are so impressed by the amount of tobacco he stuffs into his enormous pipe that they let him enter France.
  • Elegant Classical Musician: Hoffmann falls even more in love with Antonia after hearing her sing and play the harp.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier If French: Although the very sexy Arsène is French, the narrator does not say she is desirable because she is French. Instead, Hoffmann's fiancée, Antonia, is half-German and half-Italian (the two races which Dumas says compete for the title of most beautiful), and explicitly owes her attractiveness to her heritage.
  • Fat Bastard: Arsène’s current paramour.
  • Femme Fatale: Arsène is bad news from the get-go, and the strongest sign of this is probably her guillotine necklace.
  • Gay Paree
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Antonia's golden hair sets off her angelic aspect (complete with golden harp, beautiful singing voice, and her sweet and chaste nature). Antonia is the ultimate good woman, in contrast to dark-haired Arsène, the ultimate bad girl.
  • Heroic Vow: See above.
  • Hesitant Sacrifice: Mme du Barry. This is based on historical anecdote, telling that the woman's last lines before she was lowered before the guillotine were "Just one minute more, sir! One more minute!"
  • Historical Domain Character: The main character, Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann, better known as E. T. A. Hoffmann, was an actual writer of fantastic stories which often explored the boundaries of madness, and his critics were prone to accusing him of being mad himself. He would have been just 17 when the events of La femme au collier de velours supposedly took place; the character in the story is somewhat older.
  • I Gave My Word: And Hoffmann, idiot that he is, breaks it.
  • Karmic Twist Ending
  • Losing Your Head: Mme Du Barry. Also, Arsène. It's only her velvet necklace that keeps it on.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Antonia, chaste and loving bride-to-be, and Arsène, lascivious and cruel dancer, respectively embody this dichotomy.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In this case, maybe magic maybe madness.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: That doctor with the snuffbox with the little skull on it.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Arsène.
  • Poisonous Friend: Werner, in the second half.
  • Prolonged Prologue: Sixty pages! About some old man who likes to talk about his toads that live for six hundred years.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Arsène — her hair trails down on the floor behind her when she stands up.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Loads and loads of symbolism. Hoffman first sees Antonia as she is coming out of church, her head modestly bowed. Her mother died in an opera of Alcèste, a story about the most loving and self-sacrificing wife in history. Then, he first sees Arsène as she plays the spirit of "Spring" (like the Springtime of the French republic), and later Arsène dresses as a Maenad. His last encounter with Arsène, he finds her sitting at the feet of the guillotine, alone, at night, in the Revolution Square.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Hoffmann and Arsène, after a wild evening of piano playing and dancing, fall into bed together. Cut to the next morning.
  • Shout-Out: Many, as is normal for French literature. Particular note is Arsène’s costume as ‘Erigone,’ a Maenad from Classical Mythology who committed suicide.
  • Story Within a Story: Or frame story.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Is Hoffmann going insane? Is he a recent escapee from a mental hospital? Or is the story that he's a recent escapee from a mental hospital merely a coverup for a story that is far more bizarre and horrifying?
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Antonia's mother, and Antonia herself.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Antonia and her dad — who had previously been Ugly Guy, Hot Wife.


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