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.
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...
(The entire section is 1,662 words.)