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The Red and the Black by Stendhal.

Red-and-the-black-197x300

Title: The Red and the Black.
Author: Stendhal.
Genre: Literature, fiction, psychological fiction, historical fiction, politics, romance, social criticism.
Country: France.
Language: French.
Publication Date: November, 1830.
Summary: Handsome and ambitious, Julien Sorel, a young priest who would rather daydream about the glory days of Napoleon's long-disbanded army than work for his father's timber business, is determined to rise above his humble peasant origins and make something out of his life. To do this, he realizes he must adopt the code of hypocrisy by which society operates, achieving advancement through deceit and self-interest. His triumphant career takes him from the provinces to glamorous Paris society, along the way conquering the beautiful, gentle Madame de Rênal, unhappy religious wife of his employer, and then the haughty, aristocratic Mathilde, daughter of his next employer, who, along with her family and friends, considers Julien as an uncouth plebeian, though eventually falling almost obsessively in love with him. But Julien brings about his own downfall when he gives into his passions and commits an unexpected, devastating crime.

My rating: 8.5/10
My review:


♥ In France you do not expect to find anything like the picturesque gardens that surround the manufacturing towns of Germany - Leipzig, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, etc. In Franche-Comté the more one erects walls - the more one makes one's land bristle with stones piled up one upon the other - the more one acquires rights to the respect of one's neighbours. M. de Rênal's gardens, replete with walls, are admired the more because he has spent a fortune on the purchase of some little bits of land on which they stand.

♥ The tyranny of opinion - and what opinion! - is as stupid in the small towns of France as it is in the Unites States of America.

To bring in money is the motive that rules everything in this little town you thought so pretty. The visitng stranger, charmed by the beauty of the fresh, deep valleys that surround it, imagines at first that the townsfolk are receptive to the beautiful. They speak of nothing so frequently as the beauty of their countryside: one can't deny that they set a high value on it; but this is because it attracts a number of visitors whose money enriches the innkeepers, and so, through the mechanism of local taxes, brings in money to the town.

♥ In Paris Julien's relations with Mme de Rênal would swiftly have been simplified; but in Paris love is born of fiction. The young tutor and his shy mistress would have found the explanation of their situation in three or four novels, or even in some couplets from the Gymnase. The novels would have outlined for them the parts to play, showed them the model to imitate; and sooner or later, although with no pleasure, perhaps reluctantly, vanity would have forced Julien to follow the model.

In some little town in the Aveyron or the Pyrenees the slightest happening would have been decisive of the fiery climate. Under our more sombre skies, a poor young man who is ambitious only because his sensitivity of spirit gives him the need for some of the enjoyments available to wealth, can meet every day with a woman of thirty, taken up with her children and far from finding exemplars for her conduct in novels. Everything proceeds slowly; in the provinces everything happens little by little, things are more natural.

♥ As for Mme de Rênal, her hand in Julien's, she thought of nothing; she let herself live.

♥ Julien looked at her coldly with eyes that expressed the most perfect scorn.

This look astonished Mme Derville, who would have been even more surprised if she had guessed what it really signified; then she would have read in it a vague hope of the most atrocious vengeance. Such moments of humiliation are doubtless what create Robespierres.

♥ But the emotion was a pleasure, not a passion. Returning to his room, he thought of only one gratification - that of taking up his favourite book again; at twenty, the idea of the great world and the impact one might have on it carries all away.

♥ Only an idiot, he said to himself, gets in a rage over other people: a stone falls because it is heavy. Will I never grow up? When, oh when, will I acquire the sensible custom of giving these people my soul only in proportion to what they pay for it? If I want to be respected by them - and myself - I must show them that while my poverty engages with their wealth, my heart is a thousand miles away from their insolence, placed in a sphere too high to be reached by their marks of disdain - or of favour.

♥ Would I then deceive my friend? cried Julien to himself, disturbed. This being, whose usual means of survival were hypocrisy and a total lack of sympathy, was unable to tolerate the thought of the slightest lack of delicacy towards a man who loved him.

♥ Purity of soul and the absence of any spiteful feelings undoubtedly prolong youth; in most pretty women it is the face that ages first.

♥ Such alas, is, the sickness of too much civilization! At twenty, a young man's soul - if he has had any education - is a thousand miles from that freedom of spirit without which love is often the most tedious of duties.

♥ In short, it was precisely that which made Julien a superior being that stopped him enjoying the happiness that lay at his feet. He was like the girl of sixteen with a charming complexion who, going to the ball, is silly enough to wear rouge.

♥ - My God! To be happy, to be loved, is that all there is to it? Such was Julien's first thought when he got back to his room. He was in that state of amazement and deep uneasiness into which a soul descends when it gets what it has desired for a long time. Such a soul, in the habit of desiring, now finds no more to desire but has as yet no memories.

♥ This great moral crisis transformed the nature of the feeling that united Julien and his mistress. His love was no longer simply adoration of her beauty, and the pride of possessing it.

Henceforth, their happiness was of a higher kind; the flame that consumed them burned brighter. They had times of ecstasy filled with wildness. To the world their passion would have seemed greater. But they never recovered that delightful serenity, that cloudless felicity and easy happiness which had marked the first stages of their love - when Mme de Rênal's sole fear had been that Julien did not love her enough. Their happiness at times took on the appearance of a crime.

♥ For, in the provinces, husbands are the masters of opinion. A husband who complains covers himself in ridicule, a thing every day less dangerous in France; but his wife, if he does not allow her any money, sinks to the status of a working woman on fifteen sous a day, and even then right-minded people are disinclined to employ her.

An odalisk in the harem may love the Sultan with all her strength; he is all powerful, she has no hope of sapping away his authority by a series of little manoeuvres. The vengeance of the master is terrible and bloody, yet it is martial, generous, a dagger blow puts an end to all. In the nineteenth century a husband kills his wife with blows of public scorn; he closes all the salon doors.

♥ The perversity of women! thought Julien. What delight, what instinct drives them to betray us!

♥ Julien's conscience said to him: Here, then, is the filthy good fortune that is coming to you, and you will enjoy it only in these conditions and in company like this! Perhaps you will get a post worth twenty thousand francs, but that means that while you gorge yourself with food, you will stop a pathetic prisoner singing; you will give dinners with the money you have filched from his miserable allowance, and during your dinner he will be even more wretched! - Oh Napoleon! in your day, how sweet it was to rise to fortune through the dangers of battle! - but to heap up the sufferings of the poor in this low way!

I confess the weakness displayed by Julien in this soliloquy gives me a poor opinion of him. He was fit to be classed with those yellow-gloved conspirators who pretend to alter the whole manner of arranging affairs in a great country, but do not want to have to reproach themselves with making the slightest scratch.

♥ The said director, meeting M. de Rênal socially, gave him the cold shoulder. This behaviour wasn't just stupid; in the provinces there is little thoughtlessness: feelings are so rare that they are made to flow underground.

♥ One thing greatly impressed Julien: the solitary weeks he had spent in M. de Rênal's house in Verrières had been a time of happiness for him. He had experienced distaste and melancholy thoughts only at the dinners he had been given; alone in the house, could he not read, write and reflect in peace? He had not been perpetually dragged out of his glowing dreams by the cruel necessity of paying attention to the workings of an ignoble mind, and the need to deceive it by manoueuvres or hypocritical speeches.

Is happiness as close to me as that? ... The expenses of such a life would be slight; I could, as I chose, marry Élisa, or become Fouqué's partner... But... the wanderer who has just climbed a steep mountain sits on its summit and feels perfect pleasure in resting himself there. Would he be so happy if he were compelled to stay there for ever?

♥ All our hero's first moves, which he thought so wise, were - as in the choice of a confessor - blunders. Led astray by all the presumption characteristic of an imaginative man, he mistook his intentions for accomplished deeds and believed himself a consummate hypocrite. His folly went as far as self-reproach for his successes in this art of the feeble.

♥ Since Voltaire, since two-chamber government, which is at root only lack of faith and individual judgement, and engenders in the minds of the people the unfortunate habit of distrust, the Church of France seems to have understood that books are the real enemy. In its eyes, heartfelt submission is everything. To succeed in one's studies - even religious studies - is suspect, and very rightly so. What hinders a clever man from going over to the other side, like Siéyès or Grégoire? The anxious Church clings to the Pope as to its last chance of salvation. The Pope alone can spite to paralyse individual judgement, and make an impression on the sickly, wearied minds of worldly people with the pious pomp and circumstance of his court.

♥ ...lack of wisdom in the poor is quickly punished by a lack of bread.

♥ Well, I've now lived long enough to understand that difference breeds hatred.

♥ The solemn sounds of this bell should really have awoken in Julien thoughts of nothing but the hours of twenty men paid at fifty centimes, assisted perhaps by fifteen or so of the faithful. He should have considered the wear on the ropes and on the wooden frames, or the danger to the bell itself, which crashed down every second century, and have calculated ways of reducing the pay of the ringers or of paying them by some indulgence or other benefit - deriving from the riches of the Church, but not diminishing its purse.

Instead of entertaining such prudent thoughts, Julien's soul, lifted high by those full-bodied and masculine sounds, wandered in realms of the imagination. He will never make a good priest or a great administrator. Spirits stirred in this way are at best fit to produce an artist.

♥ But what is the good of specifying his friends, his enemies? The whole scene is ugly, and the truer the picture the uglier it is. Yet, these men are the only teachers of morality the people have, and what would become of the people without them? Will a newspaper ever be able to take the place of the curé?

♥ He wept for a long time in silence. He took her hand - she made as if to free it; yet after some almost convulsive efforts she let it rest in his. It was profoundly dark; they found themselves sitting side by side on Mme de Rênal's bed.

♥ From that moment, all disposition of grace vanished from his heart. Sitting next to the woman he adored, almost clasping her in his arms in profound darkness in this room in which he had been so happy, knowing that she had been crying for some time now, and feeling her sobs from the movement of her breast, he had the misfortune to become a cold schemer, almost as cold as when in the seminary courtyard he had found himself the butt of some aggressive pleasantry from one of his comrades who was tougher than him.

♥ - Here is my political creed: I love music and painting; a good book is a significant happening for me; I'm going to be forty-four years old. How long do I have to live? Fifteen, twenty, thirty years more or less? All right! I hold that in thirty years' time ministers will be a little more skilled, but exactly as honest as they are today. I use the history of England as a mirror for our future. You'll always find a king who wants to extend his prerogative; always find rich provincials who are kept awake at night by ambitions to be a deputy, and by the glory and those hundreds of thousands of francs that Mirabeau got for himself: they call it being liberal and loving the people. You'll always find the Ultras fired up by the desire to be a peer or a Gentleman of the Chamber. Everybody wants to busy themselves steering the ship of state, because it's so well paid. So will there never be a little bit of solace for a simple passenger?

♥ All true passion has an end only in itself. That is why passions are so absurd in Paris, it seems to me, where one's neighbour is always insisting that one thinks so much about him.

♥ So long as one did not make light of God, the clergy, the King or holders of office, or artists sponsored by the Court or any established institution; so long as one had nothing good to say about Béranger, or the opposition papers, or Voltaire, or Rousseau, or of anything that made for a little free speech; so long, above all, as one never mentioned politics, one could freely discuss anything at all.

♥ So, thought Julien, listening to their laughter on the stairs, it has been granted me to see the other extreme of my situation! I haven't twenty louis in income, and I find myself standing next to this man who has twenty louis an hour, yet they make fun of him... A sight like that cures one of envy.

♥ We may pass in silence over a crowd of little adventures that would have made Julien ridiculous, if, in a sense, he had not been beneath ridicule.

♥ Although of so gravely constrained a temperament, Mme de La Mole sometimes mocked Julien. Great ladies are horrified by the unpredictability that sensibility can produce; it is at the opposite pole to decorum.

♥ - For it is essential to be amused, continued the Marquis; that's the only real thing in life. A man can't save my life in battle every day, or make me a present of a million; but if I had Rivarol here, next to my couch, every single day he would spare me an hour of pain and boredom.

♥ - You haven't understood your century, Prince Korasoff told him: Always do the opposite of what is expected of you. That, upon my honour, is the only religion of the times. Don't be wild or affected, because people always expect wildness and affectation, and therefore the precept wouldn't be borne out.

♥ - That air of reserve is just as if to say: How many delights could I set out before you, were you the man worthy of me!

♥ So far as I can see, thought Mathilde, a sentence of death is the only thing that confers distinction on a man: it is the only thing no one ever buys.

♥ - ...at least when one commits crimes it should be done with enjoyment; there's nothing else good about them, and even that only slightly redeems them.

♥ - What a beautiful ball! said he to the Comte. - Nothing was lacking.

- Ideas were lacking, replied Altamira.

And his face betrayed the kind of disdain that is all the more telling because one realizes that politeness on one an obligation to hide it.

♥ A conspiracy annihilates all the titles produced by the arbitrary decisions of society. In it a man instantly assumes the rank given him by his manner of envisaging death. Intelligence itself loses its sway...

♥ ...courtesy just on its own is impressive only for the first few days. Julien had experienced this: after the first enchantment, the first incredulity. Courtesy, he said to himself, is merely the absence of the resentment caused by bad manners.

♥ What grand enterprise has not been an extreme at the moment of its inception? Only when it is accomplished do commonplace people realize that it is possible. Yes, it is love with all its marvels that will reign in my heart; I feel it in the fire that courses through me. Heaven owes me this favour. It cannot be for nothing that all these advantages have been heaped on a single being. My happiness will be worthy of me. None of my days will be a cold reproduction of the one before. Already there is a degree of grandeur and audacity in daring to love a man placed so far distant from me on the social scale. We'll see - will he go on deserving me? At the first weakness I detect in him, I will abandon him. A young woman of my birth, and with the chivalric nature people are good enough to attribute to me [this was one of her father's dictums], must not behave like an idiot.

♥ She refrained form a direct retort, and hurriedly set to teasing her brother and the Marquis de Croisenois about the fear that energy produced in them. At bottom it was no more than the fear of encountering the unexpected, simply the terror of being taken aback by the unexpected...

♥ Moreover, they know very well that he never addresses a word to them without being asked. It's only with me that he starts a conversation; he thinks I have an elevated soul. He replies to their objections only insofar as politeness requires. He goes back to a deferential pose directly. With me he will argue for hours on end, he isn't sure about his ideas so long as I have the slightest objection to them.

♥ At the Convent of the Sacred Heart, as the daughter of a man of intellect who might become a minister and give the clergy back their woodlands. Mlle de La Mole had been the object of the most excessive flattery. The harm done by this can never be mended. They had persuaded her that, because of all her advantages of birth, fortune, etc., she ought to be happier than other girls. Such an idea is the source of the ennui of princes and all their follies.

♥ From the moment she decided that she loved Julien she was no longer bored. Every day she would congratulate herself on her decision to allow herself of a grand passion. Such an amusement has many dangers, thought she. So much the better! - a thousand times better!

♥ Piqued by this sudden strangeness, the young girl's heart, naturally cold, bored and attuned to intellect, became as passionate as it was in her nature to be. But there was almost much pride in Mathilde's character, and the birth of an emotion that would make all her happiness depend on another was accompanied in her by a sombre sadness.

♥ It was not yet ten o'clock; Julien, intoxicated by happiness and a feeling of his own power - so novel a feeling for this poor devil - proceeded to the Italian opera. He heard his friend Geronimo sing. Music had never exalted him to such a level. He was a God.

♥ A man may brave danger at the head of a squadron glittering with steel, but what of danger that is lonely, strange, unexpected and truly ugly?

♥ A man existence was a succession of risks. Now civilization has banished chance, there is no more of the unexpected. If it comes up in ideas there aren't enough epigrams to throw at it; if it comes up in action no amount of cowardice is enough to cope with our fears. Whatever idiocy fear drives us to - it's excused. Degenerate and tedious age!

♥ Daring was the prime quality of her character. Nothing could so well furnish her with some agitation, and offer a relief to her endlessly renewed stock of boredom, as the sensation that she was setting her whole existence upon the toss of a coin.

♥ He saw that she was evoking something present before her eyes. He had the pang of realizing that she was discovering things about her own heart even as she talked.

Jealous anguish can go no further.

To suspect that a rival is loved is cruel enough as it is, but to have the love he inspires told over in detail by the woman you adore is undoubtedly the depth of misery.

♥ In the days preceding this Julien had, in his artless misery, frequently heaped heartfelt praise on these gentlemen's outstanding qualities; he even exaggerated them. Mlle de La Mole hadn't missed this detail; she had been much surprised by it, but she had not worked out the reason for it. But praising a rival he thought beloved, Julien's distracted soul aspired to partake a little in his happiness.

♥ Love generated in the mind is doubtless more intelligent than true love, but it has only flashes of enthusiasm; it is too conscious of itself, it constantly appraises itself; far from scattering the thoughts, it is constructed by the power of thought alone.

♥ Ah, sir! a novel is a mirror travelling down the road. Sometimes it reflects the blue of the heavens to the eye, sometimes the mud of the filthy puddles on the road. And he who carries the mirror in his pack will be blamed for being immoral! His mirror shows the filth, and you blame the mirror! Much better blame the high road where the puddles are, and better still the inspector of roads who lets the water gather and the muddy puddles collect.

♥ He was mortally weary of all his good qualities, of all the things he had eagerly loved; and in this sate of inverted imagination he undertook to evaluate existence through his imagination. This is the mistake of a superior man.

♥ The only resource left to a human being fallen into the last abyss of wretchedness is courage.

♥ Julien was mortified; he was in the wrong. His pride looked for an excuse, but could find none.

- Then learn from this, added M. de La Mole, that a man always gets emotional when he has made some stupid mistake.

♥ (Here the author had wished to put in a page full of dots. - That would show very little grace, said the editor, and if so frivolous a piece of writing lacks grace it is fatal.

Politics, retorts the author, is a millstone tied to the beck of literature, and drowns it in less than six months. Politics in imaginative work is like a shot in the middle of a concert. The noise is deafening but it imparts no energy. It doesn't harmonize with the sound of any other instrument. Such political talk mortally offends half of one's readers - and bores the other half, who, in a different context, in the morning paper, find such things interesting and lively...

If your characters don't talk politics, replies the editor, this is no long France in 1830, and your book is not the mirror you pretend it to be...)

♥ (Ah! if she loved me for a week, just one week, whispered Julien to himself, I would die of happiness. What does the future matter to me, what matters life?)

♥ All foresight must be abandoned. This age is destined to bring everything to confusion. We are marching into chaos.

♥ Infections of morale call for physical antidotes - and champagne.
Tags: 1830s, 19th century - fiction, class struggle (fiction), fiction, foreign lit, french - fiction, historical fiction, infidelity (fiction), literature, my favourite books, politics (fiction), psychology (fiction), religion (fiction), religion - christianity (fiction), romance, social criticism (fiction), translated
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