Author(s): Guy de MaupassantDownload
Guy de Maupassant’s scandalous tale of an opportunistic young man corrupted by the allure of power, “Bel-Ami” is translated with an introduction by Douglas Parmee in “Penguin Classics”. Young, attractive and very ambitious, George Duroy, known to his admirers as Bel-Ami, is offered a job as a journalist on La Vie francaise and soon makes a great success of his new career. But he also comes face to face with the realities of the corrupt society in which he lives – the sleazy colleagues, the manipulative mistresses, and wily financiers – and swiftly learns to become an arch-seducer, blackmailer and social climber in a world where love is only a means to an end. Written when Maupassant was at the height of his powers, “Bel-Ami” is a novel of great frankness and cynicism, but it is also infused with the sheer joy of life – depicting the scenes and characters of Paris in the belle epoque with wit, sensitivity, and humanity. Douglas Parmee’s translation captures all the vigour and vitality of Maupassant’s novel. His introduction explores the similarities between Bel-Ami and Maupassant himself and demonstrates the skill with which the author depicts his large cast of characters and the French society of the Third Republic.
Some Reviews: 1320 in Goodreads.com
Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 portrayal of a scoundrel of the highest order, is set in Paris and was written with great style and not a little humour.
It really brings this period to life, and though this isn’t edge of the seat stuff, the pages turn just as quickly following the exploits of George Duroy – journalist ( reputedly ) serial adulterer ( certainly ) and general rake, who’ll stop at nothing to attain wealth, power, and recognition. Even though this was written in 1885, it seems that nothing much changes, and characters like George’s are still alive and kicking!
A meaty, exciting, insightful novel. Maupassant is so skilled with structure and is clearly champing at the bit to depict the ins and outs of 1880’s Parisian culture (the extremely spoilery introduction is worth reading after you read the book to learn about the narrative parallels between Bel-Ami and the author). Bel-Ami’s a great character – he’s sort of totally loathsome and not particularly brilliant, and yet you can’t help but thrill at his talent for manipulation and constant drive. It’s also fun, oddly enough, to read a book about a genuinely handsome, alluring man. The women in the novel don’t fall short either – each of the three leads has her moment to shine and Madame Forestier, in particular, is as skillful and likable and MODERN a female character that I can remember from this period in writing.
G d.M. is known as a short story writer and there are scenes here – the visit to Bel Ami’s coarse childhood home; the remarkable dueling scene, which is a spectacular depiction of the way terror elides time; the creeping death of a friend; the depression of an elderly poet; the first meeting with a new lover – that stand alone quite well. But my favorite scene of all is a party toward the end of the book, when all the characters share the stage for the first time as they whirl around each other at the height of the society. You realize with a thrill that you know so many of them intimately, that despite the close alignment with the book’s lead, you understand an entire tableau and look at them with affection. That this is one hell of a novel.
Oh, and the ending is just absolutely a knockout. That last sentence sticks the landing.
Since most of my holiday reading books were complete & total dreck, seeing my Kindle used for good as well as evil was a bit of a relief.
& I’m not saying that Georges was good! For me, the change in Georges from a pleasant if rather aimless young man to evil personified was a bit abrupt, but that could have been the translation or me not paying enough attention to the clues being laid. Certainly not a word was wasted.
The ending genuinely surprised me. My first read of this author but definitely not my last!
Georges Duroy is not a conventional hero: he is selfish, tries to take advantage of everything and he is very stupid. The reason he achieves success is that he is handsome and lucky, incredibly lucky.
It is luck that makes him meet with a journalist and his looks makes him merry the widow of his friend, a smart woman that wrote the articles of his previous husband and now writes Georges’.
The most interesting part regards the newspaper: it has not much quality but it has political sympathies (sympathies that can change in a moment, of course), so it helps and it is helped by politicians to achieve success.
A very realistic portrait, I am afraid.
It was no accident that I picked this up immediately after finishing Flaubert’s Sentimental Education. They are hugely contiguous, written by mentor and mentee. Yet Bel Ami is by far a more modern story, about a more modern social-climber. I credit part of this to its very emancipated female characters. Frederic and Georges share similar ambitions for wealth and power, both use women of means to further their statuses, both are embroiled in the politics of their day, yet Georges makes Frederic look like a kindergartener having a play date.
Otherwise a straightforward plot, an easy read, and a jolly good time. It’s not the most trenchant commentary on the Third Republic I’ve ever read, nor does it unpack much of the emotional lives of its characters (that’s not GDM’s style), so I knocked off a star.
(I suggest the Douglas Parnee translation, not the Ernest Boyd one, which unnecessarily anglicizes everything. About 2/3 of the way through, I switched to Boyd’s because that book had larger type and was easier on my middle-aged eyes, but I should have stuck to Parnee.)
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