This was my first Maupassant novel and it impressed me as a brilliantly told story about how a journalist-turned-parvenu of low-born parentage attained status, wealth and power by sleazy means in Third Republic France.
In a witty and crisp style, the story flows smoothly along as the protagonist jumps from one woman’s embrace to the next, gathering each time more worldly benefits like career advancement, social recognition, wealth and status. His only weapon of conquest is his youth and his handsome face, hence his nickname “Bel Ami”, apart from a heart of steel. Maupassant sketches with virtuosity each of his cold, calculated social-climbing ventures with smirking irony, barely hiding his own scornful snide at the Parisian society’s bourgeois-capitalist immorality and journalistic farce.
After reading the first few chapters, I thought the protagonist seemed to bear resemblance to Eugene de Rastignac in Balzac’s “Le Pere Goriot” and Julien Sorel in Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black”. When I reached the end though, I had to conclude that Georges Duroy is the true heartless, predatory and hypocritical villain of the three.
This novel, being a 19th century work of realist fiction, deals with themes that are just as contemporary as they are historical. It makes one mull over the connection between today’s unbridled capitalism and societies’ lack of scruples.