Monday, June 4, 2012

Bel Ami

Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)

Vampire Guy as Georges? Could work I guess. 
I know Guy from his short stories, most notably "The Horla" so I was expecting some twisted mental anguish with a little touch of the supernatural. So boy was a surprised when I got a realistic novel about Third Republic France and the ins and outs of social advancement in journalism. Georges Duroy is our main character, a small time former soldier who gets a grunt job at a newspaper through a chance encounter with a former military friend. Georges is swept up into the world of intrigue and high society and that's when Bel Ami gets really French. Dinner parties, torrid love affairs, rendez-vous with married women and the seduction of everyone in sight typify Bel Ami. Each conquest Georges makes, and there are many, is mostly strategic and only somewhat romantic. We see him progress from a rank amateur writer to a slashing gossip columnist and political reporter, he makes the same change in his love life. He initially seduces women for love or at least the thrill, later in the book he makes his moves with calculated conniving. His attitude is best summed up by his first wife, Madelaine. When he's given the Legion of Honor, an event that would have been unthinkable just a few years before, he scoffs at it, thinking he deserves more. "You're never satisfied," she says (roughly).
     The think I find most French about this book is that Georges, who's a bit of a dolt and heavy handed with his sweet talk never gets caught and keeps reeling in these smart, rich, uppercrust women. I kept expecting him to get caught and challenged by a jealous husband, found in flagrante delicto by one of his other lovers and murdered, but no, he goes about his merry way becoming richer and richer, casting women aside when he sees a chance to improve his position. It's not very satisfying, but it's probably a more realistic portrayal than if Georges would have got his comeuppance.

Rating 8/10: Lots of really good stuff in here. Georges shark-like focus makes this book pretty dark, but what else do you expect from Guy de Maupassant. After all, the guy's grave reads, "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm nominating you for the Readers AppreciationAward. Check it out here;
I agree Stegner is genius.