As one of the fondateurs de Réalisme, Guy de Maupassant wrote of complex characters who are morally ambiguous and fully human. In the same style as his contemporary, Honoré de Balzac, Maupassant wrote in the time of la haute-réaliste and les modes fantastiques in his works L’Héritage and Bel-Ami In these stories, Maupassant recreated the Third République of France in a realist manner. He had a passion for observing life first hand and for describing his impressions with care. Maupassant said, « Je tache que rien de ce qui touche les hommes ne me soit étranger »(Response à M. Wolff, op. cit. 283).[translation:“I endeavor that nothing which touches mankind is foreign to me”].
From 1874 to 1886, the Impressionists portrayed la vie quotidienne, everyday life, of the Nineteenth century in their paintings and were consequently rejected by the art critiques of the Salon. They eventually began to show their works independently which opened the world of art to the Parisian public. In the same way, Maupassant created characters to live out this Nineteenth century life through his stories and introduced the world to Parisian culture, including the troubles of la société française. This is one of the main themes of his great work, Bel-Ami.
In this story, George Du Roy is an up and coming journaliste for the leading newspaper in Paris, La Vie Française. He comes to realize very quickly that in order to survive and achieve status in this profession, he must be part of the system of corruption and manipulation. Even as Georges is constantly looking for his next meal, he must keep up appearances as he promenades the streets in tails and top hat fixed at an angle to reflect his arrogance. Maupassant describes Du Roy, « Il marchait ainsi qu’au temps où il portait l’uniforme des hussards, la poitrine bombée…et heurtant les épaules, poussant les gens pour ne point se déranger de sa route » (16). [translation:“He walks as if he wears the uniform of the Hussars, the bulging chest … and bumping shoulders, pushing people in order not to disturb his path. “] As in the style of this époque, Du Roy looks for the advantages of his good fortune, staying emotionally detached from his friends, his lovers and society.
Maupassant uses the first person narrative through the eyes of Du Roy in Bel-Ami and is therefore the only character which is fully developed. We learn of the rules and mores of French society through his thoughts, experiences and interactions with secondary characters. This helps us see the narcissism of Du Roy. Maupassant describes one scene, » Lorsqu’il parvint sur le seuil, il aperçut la foule amassée, une foule noire, bruissante, venue la pour lui, pour lui Georges Du Roy. Le peuple de Paris le contemplait et l’enviait »(346).[translation:”When he reached the doorway, he saw the crowd gathered, a massive crowd, murmuring, coming towards him, for him Georges Du roy. The people of Paris gazed at him and envied him”.] Du Roy considers himself a remarkable man, as does everyone who knows him.
At the end of the story, Du Roy realizes his goals and is victorious in glory and fortune, even in his sham of a marriage to Suzanne. As he is leaving his wedding ceremony in the church of La Madeleine, he sees a former mistress and says, « Je t’aime toujours, je suis à toi » (345.) [translation: “I still love you, I am forever yours”]. He looks across the street at le Palais Bourbon, and makes a vow to one day serve in the Chamber of Deputies there, which Maupassant instructs that he will fulfill.
Maupassant wrote Bel-Ami to protest this type of aristocracy and selfishness found in Du Roy which he summarizes: “Le monde est à lui. Il aura bientôt tout ce qu’il a toujours voulu. Il ne voyait personne. Il ne pensait qu’à lui »(346). [translation: “The world is his. It will soon be all he has ever wanted. He saw no one. He thought only of himself “].
Shortly after the completion of Bel-Ami, Maupassant joined a group of activists in Paris who fought against this corruption and avarice. This group of concerned French artists and writers, including Alexandre Dumas, Paul Verlaine and Emile Zola who wrote a contemptuous note to French Minister of Commerce in 1889 stating, “Is this the horror that the French have created in order to impress us with their vaunted taste ? »(American Society of Authors and Writers).
Perhaps this reality was too much for Guy de Maupassant as he would attempt to commit suicide three years later at the age of 43.
Copyright 2016 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)