Summary

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371

Returning to France flat broke after military service in North Africa, Georges Duroy arrives in Paris determined to make a name for himself. Although he has no writing experience, Duroy insinuates himself into a journalist job thanks to his friend Monsieur Forestier. With the assistance of his friend’s wife, who...

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Returning to France flat broke after military service in North Africa, Georges Duroy arrives in Paris determined to make a name for himself. Although he has no writing experience, Duroy insinuates himself into a journalist job thanks to his friend Monsieur Forestier. With the assistance of his friend’s wife, who does much of the writing, Georges gains a reputation as a journalist. Georges meets and seduces a married woman, Madame de Marelle, who helps him financially and rents an apartment for their assignations. His envious, sarcastic friends start calling him her “good friend, or “Bel-Ami.”

Meanwhile, Duroy continues his association with Madame Forestier, making an amorous advance and even suggesting, despite her refusal, that he might marry her if her husband, who is in poor health, were to die. She recommends he gain the backing of Madame Walter, the editor’s wife, which proves a good suggestion. With her support, Georges gets a promotion. When the Forestiers go to Cannes for Monsieur Forestier's health, they summon Duroy there in time to see him before he dies. Duroy immediately proposes to Madame Forestier, and they are soon married. However, it later develops that she sees him primarily as a substitute for her husband, ignoring his requests to alter her life or home in any way. At her suggestion, he changes his name to the more elegant du Roy de Cantel.

Frustrated and still very ambitious, de Cantel engages in two affairs, once again with Madame de Marelle and now with Madame Walter as well. However, his designs are on the Walters’s daughter, Suzanne, who is rich and beautiful enough for him to consider a suitable wife. Using his actual wife’s political connections, he learns of an official state financial development that is potentially worth millions. Trading on this secret information, he makes a lot of money, but the associates he tells make much more. Georges’s envy leads to a vicious double deal; he gains a divorce and ruins the government official he despises. He now marries Suzanne and contentedly contemplates his future ascent into politics. His father-in-law, understanding what kind of man he is, determines to keep a close eye on him in his new post as editor-in-chief.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1291

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 Cantel, as he now calls himself at his wife’s suggestion, are married. They agreed to spend their honeymoon with his parents in Normandy, but Mme de Cantel refuses to spend more than one day with his simple, ignorant peasant family in their tiny home.

The newspaperman finds in his wife a valuable ally who not only aids him in writing his articles but also, as the friend of influential men, helps him to find a place in political circles. Nevertheless, friction soon develops between them. After he moves into his wife’s home, de Cantel finds that its comforts were designed to please its old master and that he is expected to fill the niche his friend occupied. Even the meals are prepared according to Forestier’s taste. To pique his wife, de Cantel begins to call Forestier “poor Charles,” always using an accent of infinite pity when he speaks the name.

Not long after his marriage, de Cantel resumes his relationship with Mme de Marelle and at the same time begins an affair with Mme Walter. He briefly bemoans the fact that he did not marry wealthy young Suzanne Walter, but he soon becomes intrigued with the idea of seducing her mother, a pillar of dignity. His conquest is not a difficult one. Mme Walter begins to meet her lover at his rooms and to shower so much affection and attention upon him that he quickly becomes bored.

Among Mme de Cantel’s political acquaintances is the foreign minister, Laroche-Mathieu, who supplies news of government activities to La Vie française. Because the minister is also a close friend of M. Walter, it is not difficult for de Cantel’s new lover to learn a state secret, namely that France will soon guarantee the Moroccan debt. Mme Walter plans to buy some shares of the loan with the understanding that de Cantel will receive part of the profit. While Mme Walter is carrying on her speculations, the de Cantels receive a windfall in the form of a bequest from the late Count de Vaudrec, an old family friend of Mme de Cantel. De Cantel objects to the count’s bequest of one million francs on the grounds that appearances will compromise her. He allows her to accept the money only after she agrees to divide it equally with him, so that it will seem to outsiders as if they have both received a share.

De Cantel profits handsomely when France assumes the Moroccan debt, but his gains are small compared to those of Laroche-Mathieu and M. Walter, who have become millionaires as a result of the intrigue. One evening, he and his wife are invited to view a painting in the Walters’ magnificent new mansion. There de Cantel begins a flirtation with Suzanne Walter; his own wife and Laroche-Mathieu have become intimates without attempting to conceal their friendship. That evening, de Cantel persuades Suzanne to agree never to accept a proposal without first asking his advice. At home after the reception, he receives with indifference the cross of the Legion of Honor that the foreign minister gives him. He believes that he is entitled to a larger reward for concealing news of the Moroccan affair from his readers. That spring, he surprises his wife and Laroche-Mathieu at a rendezvous. Three months later, he obtains a divorce, causing the minister’s downfall by naming him correspondent.

A free man again, de Cantel is able to court Suzanne. It is simple for him to persuade the girl to tell her parents she wishes to marry him and to have her go away with him until they give their consent to the match. Mme Walter is the only one at the magnificent church wedding to show any signs of sadness. She hates the daughter who has taken her lover, but she is powerless to prevent the marriage without compromising herself. M. Walter manages to resign himself to having a conniving son-in-law and, in fact, recognizes his shrewdness by making him chief editor of the newspaper. Suzanne is innocently happy as she walks down the aisle with her father. Her new husband is also content. Greeting their well-wishers in the sacristy after the ceremony, he takes advantage of the occasion to reaffirm, with his eyes, his feelings for Mme de Marelle. As he and his wife leave the church, it seems to him that it is only a stone’s throw from that edifice to the chamber of deputies.

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