Pedagogical File

Pedagogical File : Bel-Ami
The pedagogical file accompanies the ebook. It is intended for teachers, trainers, cultural workers and speech therapists. It aims to facilitate the design of workshops to discover the digital books of the Bibliodos project.

Table of Contents


Why was this work chosen?

« Bel-Ami » is one of the most famous novels by Guy de Maupassant, a leading author of 19th century French literature.

Published in 1885, this novel is a masterpiece of the so-called “realist” literary and artistic movement, which gave art and literature the mission of reflecting reality, like a mirror held up to the world. This literary current appeared in the mid-19th century.

« Bel-Ami » sheds particular light on different keys to Parisian life at the end of the 19th century through :

  • The morals of the characters (adultery was commonplace at the time but was still punishable by law, marriages were about money and power…)
  • The functioning of the written press at the end of the century and the importance of journalists whose articles can lead to the overthrow of a government.
  • France’s colonial context.

In « Bel-Ami », we find the classic themes of the realist movement: social rise, ambition, lust, the power of money, love and disenchantment…

This work remains surprisingly modern today because of the social, political (a mix of politics, journalism and money) and moral (greed, careerism) issues it raises. It will initiate a debate on these issues with some learners.

Context Element

Guy de Maupassant

Bibliographical information and key dates, major works.

Guy de Maupassant is a French author born in 1850. He is eighteen years old when he enters the Rouen high school and meets Gustave Flaubert, who would also become an author. The latter takes him under his wing and advises him. Gustave Flaubert is a French writer, author of great realistic novels including « Madame Bovary » (1957) and « L’Éducation sentimentale » (1869).

Guy de Maupassant obtains his bachelor’s degree in literature in 1869 before going to Paris to begin law studies.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 begin and Maupassant is assigned to the Intendancy. The desolation of the war would inspire him to write tales such as « Mademoiselle Fifi », « Deux amis » and « Boule-de-Suif ».

He finally pays a replacement to leave the army and returned to Paris. He meets Émile Zola, who gives him the opportunity to work for several newspapers.

He publishes his first novel « Une vie » in 1883.

He then publishes « Bel-Ami » (1885), « Le Horla » (1887) and « Pierre et Jean » (1888).

His entire body of work ensures him fame and fortune. But at the end of the 1880s, his health deteriorates and he dies in 1893.

The historical and geographical context in France and abroad

The historical current events of the time, the geographical borders and the movement of people.

In July 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began, led by Napoleon III, which ended in January 1871. France lost this war and, in fact, several of its territories that it ceded in the Treaty of Frankfurt to Germany.

In response to the defeat of Napoleon III, the Republic is proclaimed for the third time in France. Gradually, until 1879, the Republicans built up an electorate that gave them a majority. Until the end of the 19th century, France was ruled by the republicans, who passed laws and reforms guaranteeing fundamental freedoms.

From 1871 to 1914, Europe was at its peak, both economically and militarily. The great powers joined forces in the search for security. Agreements were first formed between Germany and Austria-Hungary, then with Italy: the Triple Alliance. For their part, France, England and Russia make up the Triple Entente.

However, a strong instability takes shape in the Balkans, accentuating tensions between the two alliance systems, and leads to the outbreak of the First World War.

The social and political context

The political and social organization and the major issues of the time.

From 1860, a political liberalism settles in France. In 1864, the right to strike (under certain conditions) and trade union organisations were tolerated.

In 1868, the press laws were abolished and electoral meetings were authorised.

Following the defeat at the hands of Prussian troops, Napoleon III was overthrown and the Republic was proclaimed for the third time in France. But the monarchists are still in power.

Between 1870 and 1879, the Republicans won an electorate and successively won elections to the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate and the Presidency of the Republic.

Faced with the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the opposition between the Republican Paris and the majority monarchical National Assembly, a revolutionary period begins: the Paris Commune. This episode began on 18 May 1871. This uprising against the government led to the establishment of a system of self-management in Paris. The Commune ended during the Bloody Week, from 21 to 28 May 1871. It is crushed by military troops.

Until the end of the 19th century, France was ruled by the Republicans, who passed laws guaranteeing everyone’s liberties and established a republican symbolism (the Marseillaise, the national holiday on 14 July).

In 1881, Jules Ferry, the Prime Minister, took popular initiatives: he gave total freedom to the press and set up a secular primary education, free for all, and compulsory from 6 to 13 years old.

In 1889, Paris hosted the Universal Exhibition and presented an iron structure that celebrated France’s industrial power: the Eiffel Tower.

The literary context

The international contemporaries of the author and literary issues of the time.

At the same time as the industrial revolution and the many political upheavals (the succession of Empires, the restoration of the monarchy and then the Republics), a literary and artistic current took shape in France around 1850: realism.

It is about privileging real stories with environments and characters described in an objective way. Realistic novelists wanted to describe the reality of their time, and that of the whole society: the diversity of environments and people.

The privileged themes of these writers are the rise and fall of society (« Le Rouge et le Noir » by Stendhal), the desire and power of money, love and its disenchantments (« Madame Bovary » by Gustave Flaubert) and the misery of the people (« Les Misérables » by Victor Hugo). Following this movement, the naturalism carried by Émile Zola took hold. This new movement was inspired by naturalists who observed the plant and animal world.

As in France, realism gained momentum in 19th century Anglo-Saxon literature with great authors such as D.H Lawrence (« Lovers and Sons »), Thomas Hardy (« Tess d’Urberville »), Georges Moore (« Vaine Fortune »)and George Eliot (« Le Moulin sur la Floss »). The translations that have been made of the works of Flaubert and Zola have allowed the current to develop throughout Europe. In Italy it is illustrated by Giovanni Verga (« The Malavoglia ») and Luigi Capuana (« The Torture »), in Spain by Benito Pérez Galdós (« Tristana ») and in Portugal by Camilo Castelo Branco (« Love of Perdition »).

In Bel-Ami the Parisian bourgeoisie of the second half of the 19th century is described as the elite of politics and journalism. Guy de Maupassant harshly describes the daily life of this social class, which privileged representation, appearance, power and money through an unbridled social life. Morals, loyalty and intelligence have little place in this society where ambition, betrayal and money prevail.


The place of the work in Maupassant’s bibliography

Bel-Ami is a famous novel by Guy de Maupassant, which first appeared as a short chronicle in the Gil-Blas newspaper.The success of this series led the writer to publish it as a novel in 1885. Bel-Ami is Guy de Maupassant’s second novel.

The success of this series led the writer to publish it as a novel in 1885. « Bel-Ami » is Guy de Maupassant’s second novel.

The genre

« Bel-Ami » is a work of fiction which therefore belongs to the genre of the “Novel”, a genre which has established itself as the dominant genre in literature and which is subdivided into multiple sub-genres (detective novel, novel of anticipation …). Although inspired by real places, events and people, Bel-Ami is a fiction. It is written in prose.

The international dimension of the work

Inspirations and the literacy current

« Bel-Ami » belongs to the literary and artistic current of realism born in the second half of the 19th century in France and Great Britain.

This movement gave the novelist the mission of depicting man and society in the most real way possible. This movement heralded the entry of the novel into the modern era by tackling the issues of salaried work, social confrontation and relations between men and women.

Realism spread throughout Europe with authors as famous as the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, the Swedish August Strindberg or the Russian Anton Chekhov. It also developed in America, particularly in reaction to the excesses of capitalism at the beginning of the 20th century.

« Bel-Ami » is one of the novels that has inspired the most international writers and directors:

  • 10 films adaptations between 1919 and 2012 (in Italy, Mexico, Germany, Austria …)
  • 7 TV movies between 1968 and 2005 (in Spain, Belgium, Great Britain…)

The major issues of the time addressed

« Bel-Ami » integrates the characters in a contemporary spatio-temporal setting (Paris of the second half of the 19th century and specific existing places such as the Folies-Bergères or the Madeleine church).

The relationships between the protagonists reflect this period. Marriages are often about money, and while adultery is common, it remains punishable by law.

The novel brings a certain knowledge about the period, especially about the historical (the colonial wars), political (the political scandals at the beginning of the Third Republic) and social (the explosion of the press world) context. The daily newspaper described in the newspaper « La vie française », corresponds to that of the newspapers of Guy de Maupassant’s time. The journalistic articles then had a real impact on politics, which could lead, as in the novel, to the overthrow of the government.

The gallery of characters

  • Georges Duroy: the central character of the novel is the one nicknamed Bel-Ami. A young, handsome and ambitious man, initially a simple railroad employee, but who meets by chance Charles Forestier. He started out as an editor at the newspaper « La vie française » and worked his way up the ladder to achieve his goals.
  • Charles Forestier: former friend of Georges Duroy, whom he met while serving in Algeria. He launched the young man’s career by hiring him for the newspaper. He dies of a serious lung disease.
  • Madeleine Forestier: wife of Charles Forestier. She teaches journalistic tricks to Georges Duroy. After her husband’s death, she marries Duroy. He ends up divorcing her after he extorted her fortune from her.
  • Clotilde de Marelle: young bohemian bourgeois who quickly becomes Duroy’s mistress (not represented in the ebook).
  • M. Walter: rich powerful financier, director of the newspaper « La vie française ».
  • Mme Walter: Mr. Walter’s wife. She too falls under Georges’ spell. She is completely shattered when Georges marries her daughter (not represented in the ebook).
  • Suzanne Walter: daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Walter. She is the one who marries Georges Duroy at the end of the novel.

The places

Bel-Ami takes place mainly in Paris. Georges Duroy lives in a room near the Batignolles train station (1).

Apart from the homes of the Forestier couple (Saint Georges district in the 9th arrondissement (2)) and of Mme de Marelle (the Haussmann-style apartment in which he meets her is located rue Constantinople in the 8th arrondissement (3)), and the editorial room of La vie française (Boulevard de la Poissonnière) (4), the places that Georges Duroy frequents are mainly places of pleasure such as cafés (the Napolitan bar, Café Riche, Le Bastringue, Le Vaudeville (5)) or places of entertainment: the Folies-Bergères (6) and the cabaret À la belle vue.

Throughout the work, Georges Duroy wanders Paris: its parks (Monceau (7), du Vésinet, Bois de Boulogne (8)), its major avenues (the Champs-Élysées (9), Boulevard Malesherbes (10)), its squares (Concorde (11), Notre Dame de Lorette (12), Trinité). And its churches (de la Sainte Trinité (13) and de la Madeleine (14)).

Charles Dyonnet, Alexandre Vuilemin, « Nouveau Plan Complet Illustre de la Ville de Paris en 1889 »
1889, 60.9cmx86,3cm, A. Bes & F. Dubreuil © Geographicus Rare Antique Maps

Iconography in the ebook

To illustrate « Bel-Ami »’s ebook, we have privileged contemporary painters of the work, namely :

  • Jean Béraud, born one year before Guy de Maupassant (1849) is one of the most famous French painters of the early 20th century. Like Guy de Maupassant, he depicts the customs of the Parisian bourgeoisie, as well as the daily life of the streets of Paris through a multitude of genre scenes.
  • Gustave Caillebotte, almost a perfect contemporary of Guy de Maupassant (he was born two years (1848) and died a year after him (1894)) is a great representative of the Impressionist movement. The works chosen for the ebook represent the boredom and loneliness of the characters in the new Haussmann-style Paris.

The reading workshop


Activity: As if we were there!

Activity to enter the ebook world

  • Scotch tape or repositionable paste
  • prints of images extracted from the ebook in several copies
  • some newspaper copies
  • Maupassant tunes of music/sound universes related to « Bel-Ami » de Maupassant
  • ink, old printing letters (or stamped letters)
  • objects to be handled evoking the era: a top hat, a cigar, reproductions of opera posters …
Terms and Conditions

Before the session:

  • Choose one or more tunes of music/sound universes related to Maupassant’s « Bel-Ami » (tunes from the period, composed/chosen tunes for a staging/film adaptation of the work/pieces echoing the work/ sound universes evoking the work, such as a street where carriages pass by, a printing press, the newsroom of a newspaper…).
  • Make a selection of visuals: a few images taken from the ebook but also various interesting images to relate to the music tunes or sound universes chosen. These visuals (about ten) should be reproduced in sufficient numbers to work in small groups. If this is not possible, they can also be projected.
  • Choose elements to be manipulated, felt, tried, tasted in connection with Maupassant’s « Bel-Ami ».

During the workshop:

  • Divide the large group into subgroups. Start the activity by announcing what the participants are going to do: try to imagine when and where the ebook they are going to discover is going to take place (the time, some of its specificities, the country, the city but also various places).
  • Gradually give to listen, feel, handle, taste the elements brought.
  • Allow time after each new distribution and propose to the participants to discuss what they discover, to make a link. Illustrate the instructions with an example. Caution: distribute the images last.
  • Go into the groups to help, if necessary, the participants to formulate their ideas.-Propose to the groups who wish to share their hypotheses. Encourage those who are reluctant to do so.

According to their language skills, each participant will be able to develop as much as they can/want their explanation, and will be helped if necessary by the teacher/facilitator (with questions, with vocabulary …). For example, if it is a group of small communicators, help them to make very simple sentences beginning with “It is/is”, to explain themselves using “because”).

Note: Do not give answers! These are hypotheses to be tested after reading.


It is possible to focus on images from « Bel-Ami »’s ebook. Prepare as many sets of pictures as there will be subgroups. Each picture set consists of 4 pictures, the sets are different from each other. Give one set of pictures per subgroup, explaining that these pictures are taken from the ebook that will be read by the group. Ask them to look at the pictures in order to imagine which book is going to be read and to imagine the title of the book. Ask the volunteer groups to present what they have imagined. Encourage hesitant groups to do the same.


Activity 1: Character Gallery

Preparation activity for global understanding

Associated Fact Sheet
  • Practice Sheet: Conducting a workshop with people who are new to the target language.
  • Practice Sheet: Reading entry for non-readers.
  • Images of the characters to be extracted from the character gallery
  • Character name tags.
Terms and Conditions

Before the session:

For the number of sub-groups planned, prepare:

  • The images of the characters cut out of the work like cameos
  • The labels of the names of these characters, written in a suitable font and size.

During the workshop:

This first activity is proposed before reading.

  • Divide the large group into sub-groups. Distribute the cameos of the characters to each sub-group. Explain that these are the characters from the ebook. Allow time for observation and discussion, give observation instructions adapted to the oral level of the groups (CF Fiche Pratique Conducting a workshop with people who are new to the target language).
  • Then distribute the labels “names of the characters”. Guide the people who need them (CF Reading entry for non-readers) Invite the sub-groups to associate them with the faces, then to imagine the links between them, their jobs, etc. Adapt the instructions according to the group. For example, ask them to imagine more complex elements to explain to the groups with advanced oral skills.Names will be read out to groups of people who read little or not at all, and then possibly recognised by matching the first letter of the name with its initial letter.
  • Encourage sub-groups to present their ideas.
  • Allow time for comments and discussion of the hypotheses presented. This is indeed an opportunity to highlight and then compare the cultural implicitness that underlies and guides everyone’s imagination.

Activity 2: Key elements

Global understanding activity

  • Games of a few pictures from the ebook in small format
  • A3 sheets
  • Felt-tip pens, pens of different colours
  • Scissors
  • Glue
Terms and Conditions

Before the session:

Select a few images from the ebook showing the time, place(s), profession(s). Prepare as many sets of images as there will be sub-groups.

During the workshop:

This second activity is carried out after a first individual reading of the ebook. For the 1st reading level, it is in fact a reading of images and possible key written elements.

  • Explain that it is not a question of understanding everything at the 1st reading but of discovering the ebook while carrying out a first investigation in order to check if what was previously imagined is close to the story, or not.
  • Recall that the points to be checked are the following: where and when does the action take place? Who are the actors and actresses in the story, what family, friends and professional ties unite them?
  • Form the reflection sub-groups.
  • Invite everyone to read and listen, and then to reflect individually, before sharing the results of their survey.
  • Distribute the material (A3 sheet, markers, glue …), and relevant pictures from the ebook. Ask the sub-groups to make a poster presenting the key elements discovered. Depending on the skills of the audience, it could be pictures, drawings, words.
  • Put the posters on the wall/space in the room dedicated to the « Bel-Ami » ebook.

Activity 3: Major events

Fine tuning activity

Associated Practice Sheet

Practical sheet Going further in the discovery of literary works with native or B2 oral audiences

  • Pictures of the ebook in one copy, A4/A3 format
  • Paragraphs, sentences or words from the ebook (depending on reading level)
Terms and Conditions

During the workshop:

This third activity is carried out after a second individual reading. For reading levels 1 and 2, if the elements of global comprehension have been understood, the second reading of the ebook can be associated with the audio.

  • Display the images of the ebook in their order of appearance. Next to them, display text excerpts.
  • Introduce the activity: individually, reread the ebook taking your time to better understand the story. Then choose 2 key images from the story. Indicate that it is also possible and interesting to search for the corresponding text extracts to associate with the image. It will then be necessary to accompany groups of non-or small readers.
  • Ask the participants to discuss their choice in pairs.
  • A few volunteers show the selected images (and possibly text extracts) and explain themselves.
  • Facilitate a discussion on the chronology of the story, the events that mark it out and what seems most important. This is an opportunity to discuss what is not understood or what seems strange, and thus to explain certain socio-cultural aspects of the period and compare them with the current period in different countries.With the native or orally at ease groups, it is an opportunity to make them imagine and/or tell them other elements of « Bel-Ami ». Depending on the time dedicated to the workshop, it is also interesting to read or make them listen to excerpts from the original work. (CF Practical sheet Going further in the discovery of literary works with native or B2 oral audiences).

Activity 4: Who is this Bel-Ami?

Fine tuning activity

Associated Practice Sheet

Practical sheet Adapting activity instructions for non-scribers

  • The portrait of George Duroy in large format
Terms and Conditions

In the workshop:

This fourth activity is done after a third individual reading. For reading levels 1 and 2, the third reading of the ebook must be associated with the audio. For level 3, participants who wish to do so can associate listening to the audio with reading.

  • Ask if some participants understand the title, if some participants understand who is “Bel-Ami”.
  • Display George’s portrait.
  • Invite participants to reread/listen to the ebook looking for any words they think might be associated with this character. Ask them to come and write/copy these words as a cloud of words around the character’s portrait, or to do so from their suggestions.
  • Give them time to add other words that are not in the ebook. Check that the group agrees.
  • Invite those who wish to draw things and people who seem very important to Bel-Ami (CF Practical Sheet Adapt the activity instructions for non-scribers).
  • As a large group, discuss the meaning of this “nickname” of Bel-Ami.-Ask the participants what they think of this character, if they understand him/her, appreciate him/her. Ask why.

To go further with linguistic

Work with the participants on the lexical fields of certain words associated with « Bel-Ami »’s character: find the lexical fields, the words, classify these words by class, increase the lexical fields.

To go further with cross-culturality

Discuss characters resembling « Bel-Ami » in the European cultural heritage and/or in the participants’ cultural heritage.To question the role and place of women in history and at the time in France, but also in the participants’ regions/countries.

To go further with iconography

Using a few images from the ebook, and others from the same period and/or illustrating the same period, work with the participants on the representation of different themes: women, seduction, death, importance and wealth… With the groups who are advanced in oral expression, reflect on the representations of these themes in their culture.


Activity: Staging

Activity to enhance the reading experience

  • A camera or a camera
  • Costume elements
  • Decorative elements
  • A3 sheets
  • Felt pens
  • Scissors
  • Glue
Terms and Conditions

Before the session:

Transform the room to create different spaces for imagination and creation

During the workshop:

  • Expose the context: « Bel-Ami » is going to be played in the theatre/adapted to the cinema, the group of participants is selected to create a poster(s), to make the filmed presentation of the play/trailer of the film, and to play a scene(s) from the story.
  • Invite participants to create working groups according to their wishes and ideas (several sub-groups can work on the same task).
  • Distribute the material and then go through the sub-groups to check that they are on the right track.
  • Ask the different groups to show their work. Take pictures of the achievements and paste them on the wall/room space dedicated to the « Bel-Ami » ebook.

The proposed context may be a little different: « Bel-Ami » was directed and performed in a famous theater. The mission of the group of participants is to produce the play’s press kit (presentation of the play and of the theatre company, staging and photography of the important scenes of the play, staging and photography of the unforgettable scenes, next dates and places of performance, and, depending on the level, titles or comments taken from the press).