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In the first few chapters of Maupassant's novel Bel-Ami, the main character, Georges Duroy, is learning the ropes of journalism. In Chapter IV of Part I, he accompanies the journalist nicknamed Saint-Potin, who tells him something about their boss (emphasis added):

« Et il a des mots à la Balzac, ce grigou. Figurez-vous que, l’autre jour, je me trouvais dans son cabinet avec cette antique bedole de Norbert, et ce Don Quichotte de Rival, quand Montelin, notre administrateur, arrive, avec sa serviette en maroquin sous le bras, cette serviette que tout Paris connaît. Walter leva le nez et demanda : Quoi de neuf ?

« Montelin répondit avec naïveté : — Je viens de payer les seize mille francs que nous devions au marchand de papier.

« Le patron fit un bond, un bond étonnant.

— Vous dites ?

— Que je viens de payer M. Privas.

— Mais vous êtes fou !

— Pourquoi ?

— Pourquoi… pourquoi… pourquoi…

« Il ôta ses lunettes, les essuya. Puis il sourit, d’un drôle de sourire qui court autour de ses grosses joues chaque fois qu’il va dire quelque chose de malin ou de fort, et avec un ton gouailleur et convaincu, il prononça : — Pourquoi ? Parce que nous pouvions obtenir là-dessus une réduction de quatre à cinq mille francs.

« Montelin, étonné, reprit : — Mais, monsieur le directeur, tous les comptes étaient réguliers, vérifiés par moi et approuvés par vous…

« Alors le patron, redevenu sérieux, déclara : — On n’est pas naïf comme vous. Sachez, monsieur Montelin, qu’il faut toujours accumuler ses dettes pour transiger. »

Et Saint-Potin ajouta avec un hochement de tête de connaisseur : — Hein ? Est-il à la Balzac, celui-là ?

English translation (from The Works of Guy de Maupassant, 1909, on Archive.org):

“And he says things worthy of Balzac, the old shark. Fancy, the other day I was in his room with that old tub Norbert, and that Don Quixote Rival, when Montelin, our business manager, came in with his morocco bill-case, that bill-case that everyone in Paris knows, under his arm. Walter raised his head and asked : ‘What news ?’ Montelin answered simply : ‘I have just paid the sixteen thousand francs we owed the paper maker.’ The governor gave a jump, an astonishing jump. ‘What do you mean?’ said he. ‘I have just paid Monsieur Privas,’ replied Montelin. ‘But you are mad.’ ‘Why ?’ ‘Why — why — why —’ he took off his spectacles and wiped them. Then he smiled with that queer smile that flits across his fat cheeks whenever he is going to say something deep or smart, and went on in a mocking and derisive tone, ‘Why? Because we could have obtained a reduction of from four to five thousand francs.’ Montelin replied, in astonishment : ‘But, sir, all the accounts were correct, checked by me and passed by yourself.’ Then the governor, quite serious again, observed: ‘What a fool you are. Don't you know, Monsieur Montelin, that one should always let one's debts mount up, in order to offer a composition?’ ”

And Saint-Potin added, with a knowing shake of his head, “Eh! isn't that worthy of Balzac?”

Like Duroy, I have not read any of Balzac's works, so I'm a little bit out of my depth here.

Earlier, Saint-Potin had told Duroy that Mr. Walter is a Jew and the above anecdote is meant to illustrate his avarice. In view of the widespread anti-Semitism in late nineteenth-century France (the novel was published nine year before the beginning of the Dreyfus affair), I doubt that the depiction of Mr. Walter as avaricious is the remarkable part of the story, i.e. for a nineteenth-century reader. For this reason, it is not clear to me what it is in the words of Mr. Walter that is "worthy of Balzac".

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