Thursday, May 08, 2008

Guy de Maupassant - Bel Ami

The novel traces the upward curve of the life of Georges Duroy from near starvation to riches and power. The son of poor innkeepers in Canteleu, his parents want him to be a gentleman and educate him well. He joins the military and serves for a time in Algiers. He leaves the army and comes to Paris to try and get ahead in the world. When the novel begins, he is working as a clerk in the Railway and barely able to survive on his salary, often giving up either lunch or dinner. He runs into an old army mate Forestier who is working as a journalist. Forestier gives him a break in journalism and Duroy begins his second life that finds him indulging in all the seven deadly sins, except sloth.

He comes face to face with some remarkable women who succumb to his irresistibile charm. He forgoes shame to accumulate wealth, and plays politics with a seasoned hand to bring himself to the top in any situation.

The chapter where Georges attends the fete thrown by Walter to exhibit his purchase of an expensive painting, is study in the cross currents of sexual and political power fuelled by wealth that run through the party.

There are a wealth of characters that are fullblooded, unholy, flawed and extremely real. Madeleine Forestier, who wants to rule by proxy. She wants wealth and power as much as the next man, and does not hesitate to use sex and manipulation to get it. She is almost like the female counterpart of Georges Duroy. If Georges Duroy finds himself outwitting her, it is merely because he is a man and has some unfair advantages because of it.

Then there is Clotilde de Marelle who shares a lustful relationship with Georges throughout the novel. If women want to learn about how to hang on to their man, they should study Clotilde for the Do's, and Verginie Walter, who lets her passion overrule her reason, for the Don'ts.

If the novel is by Maupassant can humour be far behind? The novel is an ironical study of success and what makes it so. The shenanigans of the ruling (or nearly ruling) class and the moneyed people are exposed blithely. There are passages and whole chapters that are so comic, so funny that they are a delight to read. The humour is cerebral and simply amazing. The chapter where the poor but upcoming Georges Duroy is turned to Georges du Roy de Cantel is so brilliant that you are left speechless.

It is a gem of a book, something all book-lovers MUST possess.


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