Everything is for sale in Emile Zola's Paris, and beauty, as a commodity, is no exception. After moaning for years that no one can make money out of ugly girls, the old businessman Durandeau finally hit upon a way to market ugliness. His company, Rentafoil, allows a moderately pretty girl to rent an ugly one as a 'suitable embellishment', or foil, in order to enhance her own beauty as the pair stroll the streets, gaze in shop windows, talk, and laugh together.
Durandeau, like Zola, knows human nature and realizes
"...only pretty women have the courage to make a false confession of ugliness. The ugly ones would never admit of their own free will that their mouths were too big and their eyes ludicrously small. You could put up notices all over Paris offering ten francs to every ugly woman who cared to apply without the slightest risk of becoming impoverished."His advertisements are of no use, so Durandeau searches the city himself, and with great finesse, is able to find enough women willing to act as foils. The business became a huge success boasting many regular beauty/foil pairs.
But what of the life of the foil?
"They spend all day in a whirl of gaiety. At night, they fret and fume and sob. They've had to take off their fine dress which belongs to the agency, they're alone in their attic, sitting in front of a bit of broken mirror which tells them the truth. Their ugliness is staring them mercilessly in the face and they're quite aware that nobody will ever love them. They may help to excite desire but never will they know the joy of being kissed themselves."And in the end,
"Mankind marches on. Durandeau will be blessed by future generations because he created a market for a hitherto unsaleable commodity and invented a fashion article which makes love easier. "
This story appears in Dead Men Tell No Tales and Other Stories by Emile Zola (1840-1902). It may also be read online.
Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.