The Power of Sexuality in Bel Ami

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The can-can, cabaret and prostitution dominated Paris in La Belle Epoque. Sex was a commerce, an escape, and a way of life. It's prominence in Parisian culture made sexuality synonymous with power and a tool for obtaining it. The combination of beauty and assertiveness could get you places that hard, honest work simply could not. Both men and women took advantage of this lustful commodity—prostitutes and mistresses were seen as status symbols, while flirtatious "femme fatales" had their way with the rich and successful. But love, illustrated in Guy de Maupassant's Bel-Ami, was far from romantic. It was a well-planned out ritual, full of lies, deceit and infidelity. However, the power of sexuality in La Belle Epoque does not stray far from its place in today's society—"sex sells," after all. Maupassant introduces prostitution into great literature with Bel-Ami. In La Belle Epoque, these women were seen as status symbols since it was only the wealthy that could afford their company. In Bel-Ami, Georges Duroy and Charles Forestier go to the Folies-Bergere, a Paris nightclub. Forestier, a prominent editor at La Vie francaise, is given special treatment—a free box in the dancehall. Thus, the combination of sex and status worked both ways: being seen with a prostitute signified wealth, and being of high status gave you sexual benefits. Forestier comments on the importance of prostitutes, stating to Duroy that they are "the quickest way to succeed" (Maupassant 41). Throughout Bel-Ami, Duroy uses this advice to his advantage—firstly with Rachel, the prostitute he meets at the Folies-Bergere. Rachel pursues Duroy when she spots him with Forestier in the box, thinking that he is a wealthy and prominent figure who can afford her services. When she asks him to come back to his place, he lies, "fingering the two gold coins in his pocket" (Maupassant 41), and says he only has twenty francs when really he has forty. Duroy uses Rachel for both his sexual thirst and the status...
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