Kalliope Muse speaks to me

Emigrée from GR
Bel-Ami - Guy de Maupassant, Jean-Louis Bory
Guy de Maupassant was responsible for a couple of items named Bel-Ami. One was his very successful 1885 novel and the other was his small sailing yacht.

Here is what the latter looked like, from a Sale advertisement.


Advertisement for the sale of Guy de Maupassant's Yacht 'Bel-Ami' (litho) (b/w photo)

In Maupassant’s mind both the novel and the boat must have had a great deal in common, for we must remember that le bateau in French is of a masculine genre.

I also see a link in the great deal of pleasure that Maupassant must have had sailing in his boat and in my enjoyment when flowing through his textual Bel-Ami.

The story in this book is after all one of a voyage of transformation. It traces the adventures of the scoundrel Georges Duroy as he surfs the seas of Parisian society. He is a real “fripon”, which is, unsurprisingly, a name often given to vessels (incidentally, “Fripon” in Spanish translates as “Bribón”, which is the name of the sailboat of His Royal Majesty, Juan Carlos I, King of Spain).

And here is the royal Bribon.


Georges Duroy is a lucky man. To begin with, he is beautiful, charming, engaging and even bewitching. When he also polishes his gear he reaches such a point of elegance that he does not recognize himself when he sees his reflection in the mirror. The novel is the account of how, as if he were a boat, he transforms himself from a provincial raft into a seductive canoe and eventually into a magnificent yacht. I picture the something as alluring as this:


In this account of navigation we witness the exploration of Duroy’s remarkable personality who is always on the look out for new opportunities or new ports as he moves through the social, political and economic mesh of Paris in the late nineteenth century. His elegant gliding is possible thanks to his ability to detect from where the wind blows and let himself be carried by that impulse. So, even if he starts out of a standing of poverty and misery, he recognizes the buoy that is his friend, M. Forestier, and succeeds in keeping afloat.

And from this timely impulse from the friend Duroy advances and steers on towards success, thanks to his wafting allure. A great part of his journey is accompanied by the crew of women in his life as they lay out the course for him. For amongst his abilities we hear him sing mesmerizing chants to the mermaids of the Parisian salons while he also skirts the shores formed by the cabarets where he can find banks of “other females”. For not all women play the same role. One offers a harbour of love. Another provides a piquant tour along the reservoir of the Folies Bergere. And a very secure anchor is provided by a third, who appropriately lives in Rue Fontaine, until it is time for him to unmoor and head out for a richer heiress and final landing pier.

But not all the crossing is made thanks to the dames. Journalism also offers rich waters for further discoveries and, as he embarks in this new career, we follow him to its zenith. For during the Third Republic newspapers acquired a new power and depth in which there was a lot to fish. Duroy recognized this clearly. As hidden finance deals blended with journalism into dense and murky seasbreaking the waves and casting his net in these new profundities and pull out fantastic treasures.

As he also learns how to cruise through the currents of public opinion, he begins to scan the coasts of Northwestern Africa, following the wake that the political and economic interests of French Foreign Policy were leaving behind. Duroy proved always ready to catch major opportunities in these colonial maneuverings when France interfered with the interests of Morocco, Algiers and Tunisia.

But for the entirety of this voyage, capital is needed if one is not to drift into dangerous currentsfloating will not take you anywhere, and just as Duroy is beginning to drown in his own debts he manages to emerge because he starts swimming in other people’s money. As his stroke improves he eventually triumphs as he creams the foam of society’s fortunes and riches.

And as he has set his sails his itinerary eventually takes him out into the open ocean of high politics. By then Duroy has earned all his stripes and elevated his name to that of Baron du Roy de Cantel. He is then more than ready to make direct headway towards the not too distant coast of the French Parliament, which standing as a beacon in the horizon, is where he plans to cast anchor, finally.

And if Duroy’s story seems like a miracle, we have to remember the recurring analogy established in the novel between our maritime hero and the often mentioned, and fictitious, painting depicting Jésus marchant sur les flots.

And if I ever could succeed in life and managed to get myself a Yacht like this one:


I would also call it BEL-AMI.

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