"The red and the Black" belongs to the beginning of Realism. It is a story about the dynamic life of Julien Sorel and its tragic end. The novel is divided into two parts and it has an educational purpose. This genre first appeared in Germany and it states chronologically the main character’s important life parts. The reader follows the growth and formation of the main character.
The description of the places and the implementation into the society is crucial for this novel. The surroundings are symbolic because the main character leaving the periphery for a big town forms his identity. Even though the novel is educational there is a small detail that makes it different from the other works in this category. The main character goes back to where he’s from enriched with new experiences only to end up in jail in the end. The journey from a small province to a big town isn’t described as a rise for the character but as a fall that ends with death instead of a life lesson.
The events are mostly described from the main character’s point of view and sometimes for the point of view of the two most important women in his life Mathilde and Louise. The omniscient narrator sometimes interrupts the plot in order to speak to the reader directly with certain comments, for example in the 19th chapter the narrator talk about the aesthetics of a mirror.
There are many details that link the novel and the author’s life. The main character Julien and the author Stendhal both grew up without a mother, had a bad relationship with their fathers and both of them worshiped Rousseau and Napoleon. The author used real events that took place in France in the plot. It is assumed that he used the execution of a man in 1828 for killing a woman in church. The killed woman was a mother of two for which the man worked as a teacher.
The colors from the title are symbolic. The red represents a military uniform and the black is the symbol of a priest’s clothes. The author had chosen that symbolic because Julien thought about being a priest or a soldier. Since the Napoleon’s time was over the decided to be a church diplomat. Julien was also torn apart between ambition and hypocrisy symbolized by the black color and honesty, nobility and idealism symbolized by the red color.
Time: 19th century
Place: Verriers, Besancon, Paris, London, Strasbourg
Julien Sorel is the youngest child in the family and, unlike his brothers, he was interested in studies and books. With the help of a local priest he learned Latin and knew how to recite some parts of the Bible.
He became a teacher and educator of Verrieres’ mayor’s kids. When he met his wife Louise he realized that he had some feelings for her. It didn’t take long for Louiseand Julien to begin an affair. In the beginning they were both afraid of the consequences but in the end both of them gave in to the passion and love.
Despite the passionate relationship Julien couldn’t stop thinking about his ambitions and he calculated every single move he made. His relationship with Louise was terminated with an anonymous letter to the mayor de Renal in which he was warned about the affair.
Even though Louise convinced her husband that she was faithful to him the rumors began and Julien had to leave. With the help of priest Chelana Julien got a scholarship in Besançon.
In the beginning it was hard for him because his classmates envied him on his accomplishments and hard work. They also disliked that Julien stood out for his efforts.
Julien didn’t even realize in the beginning that headmaster Pirard supported him not only because he was Chelan’s friend but because he appreciated Julien’s hard work.
Because of the plots against Pirard he had to resign and he gave his resignation letter to Julien to bring it to the bishop. Julien swept the bishop off of his feet and he gave hi, Tacitus’ works because of which Julien became even more appreciated. Pirard’s biggest enemy was an opponent of marquis de la Mole whose trust Pirard gained while they worked together against him.
Marquis offered him to be his secretary but Pirard suggested Julien for the job while he searched for a job near Paris. Julien left the seminary and before he headed off for Paris he decided to see Louise one last time.
Arriving to Paris Julien became a witness of the luxurious Parisian lifestyle of the upper class. Even though he had trouble managing his new job he gained marquis’s trust. Marquis de la Mola sent him to London on a two months. Julien had a double role on the trip because he was a diplomat as well as a spy. With time Julien became a famous person.
Marquis had a daughter named Mathilde who gave Julien confusing signs. Sometimes he thought she was in love with him and sometimes she was cold to him and she even humiliated him.
He had another assignment in Strasbourg where he encountered a Russian nobleman, who he had met in London, and he gave him some tips about his love situation.
He told him to seduce an upper class woman to make MAthilde jealous. Julien started courting lady Fervaques. He was indifferent towards Mathilde and his plan worked because their superficial flirting stopped.
MAthilde suggested that the two of them should run away to London and soon she discovered that she was pregnant. She wrote a letter to her father about the pregnancy and her desire to marry Julien. Marquis was furious and talked to Pirard who told him to calm down and postpone his decision. In the meantime he arranged for Julien to work under a new name as a lieutenant in Strasbourg.
When everything seemed to going well for Julien, marquis got a letter from Louise de Renal in which she stated that Julien was a unscrupulous man that only cares about his own interests. She accused him of just wanting to climb up the social ladder.
After Julien saw the letter he came to Verrieres furious and shots Louise. He ended in up in jail in Besançonu. There he found out that Louise was only wounded and that she didn’t write the letter. He finally accepted that she was the only woman he had ever loved and he admitted it to her when she came to visit.
He stayed indifferent towards MAthilde and her attempts to get him out of jail and he was sentenced to death by guillotine. After the execution his last wish came true and he was buried in a cave near Verrieres. Mathilde made sure his head was also buried with his body.
Characters: Julien Sorel, Louise de Renal, MAthilde
Julien Sorel is the main character of the novel and a young man with a vision. Unlike his brothers he was the only one who had a desire to do something with his life and to become somebody. At first he was led by ambition to climb up the social ladder but later on he let love take the wheel and gave into his passionate feelings for the mayor’s wife.
Julien was thirsty for knowledge so he went to the seminary where he worked hard, showed himself as a valuable person and opened door for job opportunities.
Just like any other man Julien stumble because of love and he couldn’t stay immune to the marquis’s daughter. In the end his love for Louise was the death of him because he couldn’t restrain himself.
In the end with his indifference for MAthilde’s attempts to get him out of jail he showed that he didn’t put his interests first and that true feelings were more valuable to him, even if they cost him his life.
Louise de Renal is the mayor’s daughter that had a lot of life experience. After her first encounter with Louise she realized that she isn’t as strong as she thinks and she falls in love with him.
When Julien and her were exposed by somebody in a letter she showed her true feelings by protecting Julien and telling her husband that it was all a lie and getting Julien out of town to protect him.
Mathilde is marquis’s daughter and a girl used to having what she wants. In the beginning she played with Julien’s feelings and she gave him mixed signals until she realized she was in love with him.
Thanks to Julien she gave up the superficial flirts and showed her true feelings. Even though Julien was indifferent to her at first she stayed with him and took care of the funeral.
Marie-Henri Beyle Stendhal Biography
Marie-Henri Beyle Stendhal was a French novel writer and narrator. He was bron in France on January 23rd 1783. When he was only seven he lost his mother and grew up with his father who couldn’t stand him.
He went to school in Grenoble where his father worked as a lawyer and in 1799 he went to study in Paris. After a short period of time he gave up his studied and joined the army. In 1800 he ended up in Milan as an sublieutenant.
After two years he left the army and went to Grenoble and Paris where he got serious about his writing and published some works. In 1806 he joined the army again for seven years and then he left it again due to health issues.
In 1814 he came back to Milan and stayed there for seven years. When he was accused of espionage he was forced to return to France. There he started using his pseudonym Stendhal.
Between 1821 and 1830 he lived in Paris and published biographies of famous authors. He went to Italy again and published his first novel "Armance".
After the revolution in 1830, during the monarchy of Louise Philippe, he worked as a consul in Trieste. Before leaving he finished his true story based novel "The red and the Black" which was published in 1830.
His second novel "The Charterhouse of Parma" made him famous and the novel was about Italy, Napoleon and his adventures.
After the revolution he was assigned to a small port Civitavecchia in Italy. On his journey back to Paris he died on March 23rd, 1842.
Stendhal was the author of many books about Italian music and art and he even wrote some travel journals. Even though "The Red and the Black" made him famous during his lifetime, he acquired real fame and made an influence on the literature world in the second half of the 19th century.
Many of his works were published after his death and he left behind many unfinished works. He contributed to the establishment of many genres because during his life novels didn’t have the reputation they have today.