Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: “Bel Ami” by Guy de Maupassant

Written in 1885, Bel Ami is a scandalous French novel about a scoundrel.  I’m not kidding.  The main character, George Duroy is a major slime-ball.  Written as an anti-hero, the novel begins with Duroy fresh from the military, penniless and struggling to make something of himself in Parisian society.  Duroy’s major talent is his incredible good looks and ability to charm the ladies.  Through the seduction of various women, Duroy moves up in the world, landing a career in journalism at a newspaper and making more money at every turn.  The problem is, Duroy is never satisfied. 

As I was reading this, I realized that Duroy is guilty of all seven of the deadly sins.  Lust – He seduces married women, balancing several at a time.  Wrath – He is vengeful on those men who are more fortunate than him.  He also flayed a government minister in the press rather viciously.  Sloth – Unless you count his bedroom activities as work, Duroy is lazy.  He even gets his wife to write his newspaper articles for him.  Envy – Duroy gets insanely jealous for the fortunes of other men.  This gets really bad when the owner of the newspaper lands a windfall in a savvy investment scheme.  Gluttony – Duroy is a slave to the pleasures of Paris, from food to wine to women.  Pride – He is in credibly sensitive to any perceived slight against him and demands full respect at all times, even when he is clearly in the wrong.  He also allows the women in his social circle to call him “Pretty Boy” in reference to his good looks.  Lastly, Duroy has no sin greater than that of Greed.  He is insatiable in his appetites for money and pleasure.  He is never grateful for his good fortune, rather once fortune is received, he sets his goals higher. 

Somehow, despite all of this, I found myself rooting for him.  I’m not sure why that is.  I guess de Maupassant did a compelling job with showing Duroy’s humble beginnings at the start of the novel and I found myself wanting him to succeed.  It was all very strange.  It did leave me with the feeling that Duroy will never have a happy ending, no matter what good falls on his plate.  Very sad, although just. 

Overall, I give Bel Ami….

Plot – 3 bookmarks
Character Development – 4 bookmarks (He made me care about this total swine.)
Love Story – 3 ½ bookmarks (This is pretty racy stuff for 1885.  I can see why women fall in love with Duroy over and over.  I think the only one that he had any genuine feelings for was Clotilde, who seemed to accept him for the cad that he was.) 
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Many people probably know that the movie for Bel Ami was filmed earlier this year and is due to come out in 2011.  While I think Rob Pattinson is a perfect George Duroy, I had some problems with the female actresses opposite him.  Kristen Scott Thomas will make a good Madame Walter.  Here are who I thought of for the other roles – Kristen Prout (Susan Walter), Adrienne Frantz (Madame Forristier), Scarlett Johanssen (Clotilde).  

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