Saturday, 19 March 2011

Bel Ami (or the History of A Scoundrel) by Guy de Maupassant (4/5)

I read this last year and after having a discussion with a friend decided to re-read it since it appears my opinion of the book shocked her. My opinion being that I didn't think Georges Duroy was such a bad character, and that I found him to be somewhat humorous.

The back says: Young, attractive and very ambitious, Georges Duroy, known to his friends 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.

I say: I really like this book, bordering on love. The main reason being that Duroy is such an unapologetic schemer. He sincerely believes that the world owes him these things and thus any action he takes to get there, deserves no justification.

It was meant to be.

I must say that the reason why I don't outright love this is because sometimes Duroy's whining gets the best of me. He often comes across as a petulant child, and really doesn't think too far ahead in his scheming. He's also a misogynist and quite possibly a misanthrope -

in other words, a scoundrel.

I must confess that I kind of like how he fools these women into thinking he's madly in love with them, and that his immediate reaction to people not doing what he wants them to is to want to strangle them. I can't help it, I just find de Maupassant's writing incredibly witty. My favourite part may very well be in the church where Mme. Walter forces a priest to take her confession because she doesn't want to be tempted by Duroy. When she's finally done, she sees Duroy waiting for her and tells him to leave her alone, and she walks off.

"He permitted her to go, because it was against his principles to force matters. As the priest in his turn issued from the confessional, he advanced toward him and said: "If you did not wear a gown, I would give you a sound thrashing." Then he turned upon his heel and left the church whistling."
- p. 76

I know I probably shouldn't, but I just love it.

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