After a two month hiatus I am back with the 45th book from my Classics Club list. That’s 45% of my list done and I’m only 32 books behind schedule 😉
Going into Bel Ami I thought I knew what the book was about, but I wasn’t aware it had a subtitle, The History of a Scoundrel, which would’ve told me I was in no way correct!
If I’m honest I chose Bel Ami because it was short and accessible on my phone. (Thank you Kindle iPhone app, this isn’t the first time you’ve saved me from boredom.) I forgot the next book I wanted to read and an hour is a long time for lunch so I started this and read it pretty quickly. You’d think I would use lunch and my commute to catch up on my 10+ hours of back logged podcasts to listen to, but no why would I do that when there are more books to read!?
In essence this is rags to riches tale. It’s full of corruption and infidelity but written in such a way as to appear beautiful and even noble at points. I do wonder about the translation though (or is it the original writing style?). The following two sentences appeared within roughly five “pages” of each other and were about the same woman:
“He had at last conquered a married woman! A woman of the world! A Parisian! How easy it had been!” (loc. 480)
“Duroy was startled; he had not realized the fact that Mme. de Marelle was married.” (loc. 542)
I mean that’s either bad writing or bad translating! This being said it wasn’t just about the protagonist conquering women. I loved Madeline Forestier and her no-nonsense name-taking. When I wrote that sentence, Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” (NSFW, YouTube link), popped into my head.
Although the book is about Duroy’s shenanigans, infidelities, and scams, Madeline was definitely playing the long game and doing what she could to make her way in a man’s world. It’s hard to say whether this was de Maupassant nodding at feminism or trying to raise a scandal. I’d go with the latter, but I can’t help but think Madeline is a bad-ass and held her own against Duroy and she made men who they were, at least three we know of.
There was also one passage that made me smile for no apparent reason
“The notary was a short, round man—round all over. His head looked like a ball fastened to another ball, which was supported by legs so short that they too almost resembled balls.” (loc. 1679)
I have no idea why it made me smile, but I imagined a mix between the Michelin Man and the robot from Big Hero Six.
Recommendation: It’s a fun novella, but honestly it’s a bit of a throw away. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is. There was a great scene with a pistol duel which actually was accurate, but other than that I’m not really sure. I can tell you I’d rather read this over the depraved Miller’s I’ve read in the past. It would also work as a good juxtaposition to Anna Karenina in a happier ending sort of way.
Opening Line: “After changing his five-franc piece Georges Duroy left the restaurant”
Closing Line: “Leisurely they descended the steps between two rows of spectators, but Georges did not see them; his thoughts had returned to the past, and before his eyes, dazzled by the bright sunlight, floated the image of Mme. de Marelle, rearranging the curly locks upon her temples before the mirror in their apartments.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from Bel Ami
“Good, no one knows any more except about a score of fools. It is not difficult to pass for being learned. The secret is not to betray your ignorance. Just maneuver, avoid the quicksands and obstacles, and the rest can be found in a dictionary.” (loc. 73)
“How many would abandon themselves to a caprice, a dream of love, if they did not fear that they would pay for a brief happiness with tears and an irremediable scandal?” (loc. 456)
“‘My dear friend, a man in love is not only foolish but dangerous. I cease all intercourse with people who love me or pretend to; firstly, because they bore me, and secondly, because I look upon them with dread, as I would upon a mad dog. I know that your love is only a kind of appetite; while with me it would be a communion of souls. Now, look me in the face—’ she no longer smiled. ‘I will never be your sweetheart; it is therefore useless for you to persist in your efforts. And now that I have explained, shall we be friends?'” (loc. 635)
“That may be. In a kingdom of blind men the blind are kings. All those people are divided between money and politics; they are pedants to whom it is impossible to speak of anything that is familiar to us. Ah, it is difficult to find a man who is liberal in his ideas! I have known several, they are dead. Still, what difference does a little more or a little less genius make, since all must come to an end?” (loc. 726)
“While one is climbing the ladder, one sees the top and feels hopeful; but when one has reached that summit, one sees the descent and the end which is death. It is slow work ascending, but one descends rapidly. At your age one is joyous; one hopes for many things which never come to pass. At mine, one expects nothing but death.” (loc. 730)
“We breathe, sleep, drink, eat, work, and then die! The end of life is death. What do you long for? Love? A few kisses and you will be powerless. Money? What for? To gratify your desires. Glory? What comes after it all? Death! Death alone is certain.” (loc. 734)
“Duroy was paralyzed with surprise and joy. All was over! He felt that he could fight the entire universe. All was over! What bliss! He felt brave enough to provoke anyone. The seconds consulted several moments, then the duelists and their friends entered the carriages and drove off.” (loc. 863)
“Life lasted a few months or years, and then fled! One was born, grew, was happy, and died. Adieu! man or woman, you will never return to earth! He thought of the insects which live several hours, of the feasts which live several days, of the men who live several years, of the worlds which last several centuries. What was the difference between one and the other? A few more dawns, that was all.” (loc. 996)
“”Now listen carefully: Marriage, to me, is not a chain but an association. I must be free, entirely unfettered, in all my actions—my coming and my going; I can tolerate neither control, jealousy, nor criticism as to my conduct. I pledge my word, however, never to compromise the name of the man I marry, nor to render him ridiculous in the eyes of the world. But that man must promise to look upon me as an equal, an ally, and not as an inferior, or as an obedient, submissive wife. My ideas, I know, are not like those of other people, but I shall never change them.” (loc. 1036)
“My dear, love is not eternal. One loves and one ceases to love. When it lasts it becomes a drawback. I want none of it! However, if you will be reasonable, and will receive and treat me as a friend, I will come to see you as formerly.” (loc. 1867)
“What! Would you like me to handle you with gloves? You have conducted yourself like a rascal ever since I have known you, and now you do not want me to speak of it. You deceive everyone; you gather pleasure and money everywhere, and you want me to treat you as an honest man.” (loc. 2097)