Sandra 's Reviews > Bel Ami

Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant
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Jan 05, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: freebies, classics, rakes-and-scoundrels, historical-fiction, 2012-book-challenge
Read from January 02 to 05, 2012

This is a classic piece of literature. No doubt about it. As such, the copyright has expired and you can obtain a free copy in e-format through Project Gutenberg.

So I did. Mostly because I had never read this book (wasn't required lit in school) and I needed to get a feel for the plot prior to watching the highly anticipated movie coming to the US on 3/2/12.

Clearly, this is a satire. Or at least, I should hope this was meant to be a satire. Either way, then and now, it's not about what you know but WHO you know.

Georges Duroy is a penniless soldier who recently returned from Africa to make his fortune in Paris. As he's almost at rock bottom, he runs into an old acquaintance from his soldier days who invites him, seemingly to be polite. Then he sets him up with a job at one of the Parisian papers as a writer. Or as Georges prefers, a journalist. Georges is expected to write an article about his experiences in the Sahara.

Of course, without much of an education, he needs the assistance of his friend's wife. They begin a friendship as well. As Georges gets drawn into their circles, he meets Clotilde, who is married but whose husband is mostly out of town. He pursues her, they become secret lovers.

After getting a taste of the high life, you can see how the bumbling ex-soldier turns quickly into a money-hungry profiteer, using anyone and everyone to advance his position in life. He lies, he cheats, he is abominably cruel when he has achieved what he wanted, and keeps tricking and lying his way up the ladder.

As I said - this has to be a satire. It's poking fun at the societal restrictions of the time it was written, it's thumping its nose at the superficiality of the relationships, it's deriding the belief that women don't have a brain (as Mme. Forestier disproves since she's the one writing not only Georges but also her husband's articles, it seems) and it's laughing at the upper classes for not realizing what a scoundrel they have invited into their midst.

There are insinuated heaving bosoms as Georges declares his everlasting love for each and every woman he uses, and then drops her when she has served her purpose. The only one to really see him for what he is appears to be Clotilde. His improper relationship with her comes and wanes and comes again. He marries twice, each time to climb a little higher on that ladder, both times having convinced the lady in question against societal norms to marry him.

He's a completely unlikable character and as a reader, I was rolling my eyes a lot at the people around him for not seeing him for what he really is - a manipulative scoundrel who steps over anyone's body, dead or alive, to get what he wants, without ever exposing himself as such.

And the saddest part - even though this book was written in the lat 19th century, it is still relevant today. As a society, as advanced this age as we may be, we still tend to reward psychopathic behavior such as is described in this book.

Georges is a narcissist. He's the textbook definition of one. He twists and turns and changes the facts to suit his needs, he lies, he cheats without any thought to the feelings of others. And for this, he is rewarded.

Yes. Definitely a satire.
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Reading Progress

01/02 "and yes, I'm reading this in preparation for the long-anticipated movie release in February."
01/02 "Dl'd a free copy from Project Gutenberg. The copy offered here on GR is apparently in French."
01/03 "Georges Duroy, you idiot - what do you mean you didn't realize Mme. is married? You heard about it at one of the first dinners."
01/03 "Wow. Just...wow. What a sniveling rat bastard liar motherf*cker." 2 comments
01/04 "Wow. What a manipulative rat bastard. Were women really that stupid back then?"
06/28 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Jess Are you reading it in the original French? The only free one I found in English is apparently a universally hated (according to the reviews at least) Cliffs Notes version. There's another (Penguin classics I think) that's about $5 which I might get. How do you like it?


Sandra The one I got from Project Gutenberg seems like a full version, not the cliff notes. Have you tried them?

I wish I could read the original French. :(

The writing is very different than what I'm used to but I can see where this author is poking fun at society already.


Jess The words that kept cropping up in the PG reviews were "condensed" & "lost in translation." Which may be true, or those reviews may have been written by pretentious twits who can actually read the original French (lucky bastards). I thought February was a cinematic dump for all the movies that were guaranteed to flop? Because there's NO WAY that this will. I want to read it first too because I get a perverse thrill out of complaining how much better the book is than the movie. (Water for Elephants was a notable exception. What a wonderful movie.)


Sandra IMDB shows the US release as 3/2. Not Feb. My mistake.
Haters gonna hate, ya know? And the world is full of pretentious twits - I usually ignore them. :)

From what I can see so far, the movie appears to be very close to the book, but that's only based on the previews. OMG, I cannot wait for this!

WFE was an excellent movie - as I said before, haters gonna hate. I form my own opinions. kwim?


Jess Oh good, that gives me more time to finish Salem's Lot first. CAN'T WAIT!!!


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