Georges Duroy, a former soldier, has only three francs in his pocket when he meets his brother officer, Charles Forestier, in Paris one evening. Forestier, an editor of the daily newspaper La Vie française, unhesitatingly loans Duroy money to buy suitable clothes and invites him to dinner the following evening to meet the owner of the paper. The Forestiers’ party is a success for Duroy. M. Walter hires him as a reporter to write a series of articles on his experiences in Algeria.
It is not easy for Duroy to adapt himself to his new job. His first article is due the day following the dinner party. Unable to write it in the proper form, he is forced to hurry to the Forestier home early in the morning to seek stylistic advice. Forestier, just leaving, refers Duroy to Mme Forestier for help. Together they turn out a successful piece. With her help, Duroy slowly builds a reputation as a clever reporter, but his salary remains small.
Two months after the Forestiers’ dinner party, Duroy calls on Mme de Marelle, who was among the guests that evening. Duroy’s acquaintance with Mme de Marelle quickly develops into an intimate friendship. Because M. de Marelle is often away from home, his wife has ample time to see her lover, at his lodgings at first and then at an apartment that she rents. Duroy objects mildly to having Mme de Marelle bear this expense, but it is not long before he finds himself regularly accepting small sums of money from her. It is Mme de Marelle’s daughter Laurine who first calls him “Bel-Ami,” a nickname gradually adopted by most of his friends.
M. Forestier suffers from a bronchial ailment. As his health grows worse, his disposition becomes unbearable at the office. Duroy determines to avenge himself by attempting to seduce Mme Forestier. She gently rebuffs him but agrees that they could be friends. Duroy is brash enough to propose that she become his wife if she is ever widowed.
At Mme Forestier’s suggestion, Duroy begins to cultivate Mme Walter. The week following his first visit to her, he is appointed editor of the “Echoes,” an important column. He has barely assumed this position when the editor of a rival newspaper, La Plume, accuses him falsely of receiving bribes and suppressing news. To uphold the honor of La Vie française, Duroy is forced to challenge his disparager to a duel. Though neither man is injured, M. Walter is pleased with Duroy’s spirit.
Duroy moves into the apartment that Mme de Marelle has rented for their meetings after promising that he will never bring anyone else there. Shortly afterward, Forestier becomes seriously ill, and Duroy receives a telegram asking him to join the Forestiers in Cannes, where they went for his health. After Forestier’s death, as he and Mme Forestier keep a vigil over the corpse, Duroy proposes once more. The widow makes no promises, but the next day she tells him that she might consider marrying him, though she warns him that she will have to be treated as an equal and her conduct left unquestioned.
Mme Forestier returns to Paris. A year later, she and Duroy, or Georges du Roy de...
(The entire section is 1291 words.)