Stendhal's The Red and The Black

What You Need to Read This Book

I must say that The Red and The Black is a truly remarkable piece of fiction. Stendhal is arguably the crowning literary achievement in French history. Although at times The Red and The Black can seem overwhelming, here are some things you should know as you read.

  • Have a pretty basic understanding of French society at around 1820-1830. The French Revolution took place about 50 years prior to the time of the novel but the Revolution is still on most of the citizen's minds. The wealthy live in fear of another peasant uprising while everyone else wishes that they can have a place in society.
  • Have an open mind. Stendhal often jokes and makes fun of his insolent characters, but don't let this annoy you and keep you from reading!
  • Have patience. It takes more than 350 pages for the action to really take course. At times I know I wanted to punch Julian (Main character in The Red and The Black) for his stupidity, but I still kept going.
  • Try not to get too distracted and irritable about Julian's sorrows. Julian is constantly miserable even when his life is perfect. He is obsessed with Napoleon Bonaparte and constantly asks what would Napoleon do had he been in my position?   Eventually it does get quite annoying, but try to look past all of it as best as you can.
  • The ending comes so fast, you barely have time to process it all. Leave yourself sometime to process it and think about what Stendhal wrote.
  • Read the notes in the back, after the book. You don't have to read all of them, but some of them help explain who people are as well as a plethora of other things.

Book Cover

The copy I read. It had excellent notes on the text.
The copy I read. It had excellent notes on the text.

Focus Character Analysis

Julian Sorel is, as I like to call it, the focus character. The whole plot revolves around Julian and Julian's actions. Julian is from the French countryside. He is not familiar with the manners of high society he is about to be plunged into. Although he wants to become a priest, at the same time he also wants to join the French Army. As fate would have it, he becomes a tutor for the Mayor's children. And after he becomes a tutor, he becomes extremely unhappy with French society. He has an affair with the mayor's wife and believes there is nothing wrong with it. In fact he looks at her like a conquest. Here's were things get interesting: When he realizes he actually loves her and still acts like he doesn't want her.

Continuing on with Julian's seemingly psychological paradox, He runs away from the Mayor and joins priesthood. While he is becoming a priest, he finds himself completely at odds. He is torn between the person he is and the person or persons he wishes to be. He finds that he possesses a photographic memory and so he learns the Bible in Latin word for word.

And then Julian leaves priesthood to become a secretary for a Monsieur De La Mole. Julian is happy for a time until Monsieur De La Mole's daughter, Mathilde starts making advances at Julian. Julain really doesn't know how to act because she is of high society and so he is put back in the position he was in with the Mayor's wife: Do I truly love her?

It is the relationship with Mathilde that really brings the rising action. Because eventually we get to the point where Julian does love Mathilde but at the same time doesn't want her because she carry's herself like a queen. He doesn't like high society because he believes they are complete idiots only concerned with their finances.

When Julian realizes his love for Mathilde is true, he goes and cleans up the mess he made with the Mayor's wife. Ironically, he buys two pistols and attempts to take her life during a church service. He fails miserably, and so is taken into custody. It is here that the morals and emotions collide. On one side he wants to take responsibility for what he has done in order to show courage and bravery much like Napoleon would have. On the other he wants to be found innocent because for the first time in his life people are noticing him. People are caring about what Julian has done and are taking his side.

At the end of this novel you are thrown a curve ball you never saw coming and one that you will have to read to find out.

The Red and The Black Meaning

The Red and The Black is meaningful to the storyline.Julian constantly has to throw his mind in a deeply probing psychological evaluation of himself. In this instance The Red has to do with the color of the French Army. It's always been a passion of Julian's to become an officer in the French Army. He attempts to model his life after Napoleon and what he would have done had he been in Julain's present state. Julain wants to be courageous, brave, and have a place in society. Being in the Army would give Julian a sense of pride as well as a voice he has never had.

As daydreams of glory in the Army fill young Julian's mind, so does The Black of doing what's right. Julian wants to what is best for his peace of mind and his spirit. He joins priesthood and finds a lot about himself. He finds that most of the young men in his seminary are concerned only with the material gains of being a parish priest. This deeply moves him to really take a stand and make a difference in the spiritual well being of French Christians.

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Comments 1 comment

taleb 4 years ago

wait for 350 pages for the action to take place? that's the length of the book, minus 2!!!

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