Madame Hermet (Maupassant)

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Madame Hermet
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A beautiful, vain woman refused to visit her dying son for fear of contracting smallpox and losing her beauty. After her son's death, she became insane, believing her face was disfigured.

A woman named Madame Hermet was known for her beauty and charm. She was a widow with a son, whom she loved dearly. As she aged, she became increasingly obsessed with preserving her beauty and spent hours examining her face in the mirror, fearing the inevitable signs of aging.

Madame Hermet — beautiful, vain woman; mother of George; obsessed with her appearance; fearful, selfish.

One day, her son fell ill with a mysterious fever. Madame Hermet was so consumed with her own vanity that she only visited him briefly in the mornings and evenings. Eventually, the boy was diagnosed with smallpox, and Madame Hermet became terrified of contracting the disease herself. She locked herself in her room, filling it with disinfectants and praying for her beauty to be preserved.

As her son's condition worsened, he desperately wanted to see his mother. Despite the pleas of the boy's tutor and the doctor, Madame Hermet refused to visit her son, fearing the risk of infection.

George — Madame Hermet's son; 15 years old; contracted smallpox; loving, patient.
The Doctor — doctor treating George; compassionate, persistent.
The Abbé — George's tutor; caring, concerned.

The boy, sensing his impending death, asked if his mother could at least come to his window so he could see her one last time.

If she is afraid to come in, just beg her to come along the balcony as far as my window so that at least I can see her and say goodbye to her by a look.

Madame Hermet reluctantly agreed, but when she reached the balcony, she was overcome with shame and fear. She refused to look at her dying son and clung to the balcony, wailing in despair. The boy waited for his mother's face until night fell, but she never came. He turned his face to the wall and died the next morning.

Following her son's death, Madame Hermet went mad, believing her face was disfigured by smallpox scars. She spent her days in an asylum, constantly examining her face in a mirror and lamenting her lost beauty.