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The Red and the Black

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Wikipedia article

'Le Rouge et le Noir' ( ; French for 'The Red and the Black'), 1830, by Stendhal, is a historical psychological novel in two volumes, chronicling a provincial young mans attempts to rise socially beyond his modest upbringing with a combination of talent and hard work, deception and hypocrisy yet who ultimately allows his passions to betray him.

The novels composite full title, 'Le Rouge et le Noir,' 'Chronique du XIXe sicle' ('The Red and the Black: A Chronicle of the 19th Century'),'The Red and the Black', by Stendhal, C. K. Scott-Moncrief, trans., 1926, p. xvi. indicates its two-fold literary purpose, a psychological portrait of the romantic protagonist, Julien Sorel, and an analytic, sociological satire of the French social order under the Bourbon Restoration (181430). In English, 'Le Rouge et le Noir' is variously translated as 'Red and Black', 'Scarlet and Black', and 'The Red and the Black', without the sub-title.'Bents Readers Encyclopedia', Fourth Edition, (1996) p. 859.


Occurring from September 1826 until July 1831, 'Le Rouge et le Noir' is the Bildungsroman of Julien Sorel, the intelligent, ambitious, protagonist from a poor family, who fails to understand much about the ways of the world he sets to conquer. He harbours many romantic illusions, becoming mostly a pawn in the political machinations of the ruthless and influential people about him. The adventures of the hero satirize early 19th-century French society, especially the hypocrisy and materialism of the aristocracy and members of the Roman Catholic Church in foretelling the coming radical changes that will depose them from French society.

The first volumes epigraph is attributed to Danton: La vrit, lpre vrit (The truth, the harsh truth), which is fictional, like most of the chapter epigraphs. The first chapter of each volume repeats the title 'Le Rouge et le Noir' and the 'Chronique de 1830' sub-title. The novels title denotes the contrasting uniforms of the Army and the Church. Early in the story, Julien Sorel realistically observes that under the Bourbon restoration it is impossible for a man of his plebian social class to distinguish himself in the army (as he might have done under Napoleon), hence only a Church career offers social advancement and glory.

In complete editions the first book ("Livre premier", ending after Chapter XXX) concludes with the quotation: To the Happy Few, a dedication variously interpreted to mean either the few readers who could understand Stendhals writing; or a Shakespearean allusion to 'Henry V' (1599); or a sardonic reference to the well-born of society ('viz.' Canto 11 'Don Juan', 1821, by Byron) or to those living per Beylisme: personal happiness being the purpose of existence accordingly, every action taken to achieve that is permissible hence Juliens expediency with people wherein La force dme (Force of the soul) is the most important virtue, realised as courage, resolution, and moral energy. This quote appears also at the end of "La Chartreuse de Parme").


In two volumes, 'The Red and the Black: A Chronicle of the 19th Century' tells the story of Julien Sorels life in a monarchic society of fixed social class.

'Book I' presents the ambitious son of a carpenter in the (fictional) Verrires village, in Franche-Comt, France, who would rather read and daydream about the glory days of Napoleon's long-disbanded army, than work his fathers timber business with his brothers, who beat him for his intellectual affectations. In the event, Julien Sorel becomes an acolyte of the abb Chnal, the local Catholic prelate, who later secures him a post as the tutor for the children of Monsieur de Rnal, the mayor of Verrires. Despite appearing to be a pious, austere cleric, Julien is uninterested in the Bible beyond its literary value, and how he can use memorised passages (learnt in Latin) to impress important people.

He enters a love affair with Monsieur de Rnals wife; it ends badly when exposed to the village, by her chambermaid, Elisa, who had romantic designs upon him. The abb Chnal orders Julien to a seminary in Besanon, which he finds intellectually stifling and pervaded with social cliques. The initially cynical seminary director, the abb Pirard (of the Jansenist faction more hated than the Jesuit faction in the diocese), likes Julien, and becomes his protector. Disgusted by the Churchs political machinations, the abb Pirard leaves the seminary, yet first rescues Julien from the persecution he would have suffered as his protg, by recommending him as private secretary to the diplomat Marquis de la Mole, a Roman Catholic legitimist.

'Book II' chronicles the time leading to the July Revolution of 1830, and Julien Sorels Parisian life, as an employee of the de la Mole family. Despite moving among high society, the family and their friends, condescend to Julien for being an uncouth plebeian his intellectual talents notwithstanding. In his boundlessly ambitious rise in the world, Julien perceives the materialism and hypocrisy important to the lite of Parisian society, and that the counter-revolutionary temper of the time renders it impossible for well-born men of superior intellect and sthetic sensibility to progressively participate in the public affairs of the nation with any success.

The Marquis de la Mole takes Julien to a secret meeting, then despatches him on a dangerous mission to communicate a political letter (that he has memorised) to the Duc d'Angouleme, who is exiled in England; however, the callow Julien is mentally distracted, by an unsatisfying love affair, thus he only learns the message by rote, but not its political significance as a legitimist plot. Unwittingly, the plebeian Julien Sorel risks his life in secret service to the right-wing monarchists he most opposes; to himself, Julien rationalises such action as merely helping the Marquis, his employer, whom he respects.

Meanwhile, in the preceding months, the Marquiss bored daughter, Mathilde de la Mole, had become emotionally torn, between her romantic attraction to Julien, for his admirable personal and intellectual qualities, and her social repugnance at becoming sexually intimate with a lower-class man. At first, he finds her unattractive, but his interest is piqued, by her attentions and the admiration she inspires in others; twice, she seduces and rejects him, leaving him in a miasma of despair, self-doubt, and happiness (he won her over aristocrat suitors). Only during his secret mission does he gain the key to winning her affections: a cynical 'jeu damour' proffered to him by Prince Korasoff, a Russian man-of-the-world. At great emotional cost, Julien feigns indifference to Mathilde, provoking her jealousy with a sheaf of love-letters meant to woo Madame de Fervaques, a widow in the social circle of the de la Mole family. Consequently, Mathilde sincerely falls in love with Julien, eventually revealing to him that she carries his child; yet, whilst he was on diplomatic mission in England, she became officially engaged to Monsieur de Croisenois, an amiable, rich young man, heir to a duchy.

Learning of Juliens romantic liaison with Mathilde, the Marquis de la Mole is angered, but relents before her determination, and his affection for him, and bestows upon Julien an income-producing property attached to an aristocratic title, and a military commission in the army. Although ready to bless their marriage, he changes his mind upon receiving the reply to a character-reference-letter he wrote to the abb Chnal, Juliens previous employer in the village of Verrires; however, the reply letter, written by Madame de Rnal at the urging of her confessor priest warns the Marquis that Julien Sorel is a social-climbing cad who preys upon emotionally vulnerable women.

On learning the Marquiss disapproval of the marriage, Julien Sorel travels to his home village of Verrires and shoots Madame de Rnal during Mass in the village church; she survives. Despite the efforts of Mathilde, Madame de Rnal, and the priests devoted to him since his early life, Julien Sorel is determined to die because the materialist society of Bourbon Restoration France will not accommodate a low-born man of superior intellect and sthetic sensibility possessing neither money nor social connections.

Meanwhile, the presumptive duke, Monsieur de Croisenois, one of the fortunate few of Bourbon France, is killed in a duel fought over a slur upon the honour of Mathilde de la Mole. Despite her undiminished love for Julien, his imperiously intellectual nature, and its component romantic exhibitionism, render Mathildes prison visits to him a duty.

Moreover, when Julien learns he did not kill Madame de Rnal, that resurrects his intemperate love for her lain dormant throughout his Parisian time 'and' his passion for Mathilde, who visits him during the final days of his life. Afterwards, Mathilde de la Mole re-enacts the cherished, 16th-century French tale of Queen Margot visiting her dead lover, Joseph Boniface de La Mole, to kiss the lips of his severed head. In the 19th century, Mathilde de la Mole so treated Julien Sorels severed head, making a shrine of his tomb, in the Italian fashion.

Structure and themes

'Le Rouge et le Noir' occurs in the latter years of the Bourbon Restoration (181430) and the days of the 1830 July Revolution that established the Kingdom of the French (183048). Julien Sorels worldly ambitions are motivated by the emotional tensions, between his 'idealistic' Republicanism (especially nostalgic allegiance to Napoleon), and the 'realistic' politics of counter-revolutionary conspiracy, by Jesuit-supported legitimists, notably the Marquis de la Mole, whom Julien serves, for personal gain. Presuming a knowledgeable reader, the novelist Stendhal only alludes to the historical background of 'Le Rouge et le Noir' yet did sub-title it 'Chronique de 1830' (Chronicle of 1830). Moreover, the reader wishing an expos of the same historical background might wish to read 'Lucien Leuwen' (1834), one of Stendhals un-finished novels, posthumously published in 1894.

Stendhal repeatedly questions the possibility, and the desirability, of sincerity, because most of the characters, especially Julien Sorel, are acutely aware of having to play a role to gain social approval. In that 19th-century context, the word hypocrisy denoted the affectation of high religious sentiment; in 'The Red and the Black' it connotes the contradiction between thinking and feeling.

In 'Mensonge romantique et vrit romanesque', 1961, ('Deceit, Desire and the Novel') philosopher and critic Ren Girard identifies in 'Le Rouge et le Noir' the triangular structure he denominates as mimetic desire, which reveals how a persons desire for another is always mediated by a third party, i.e. one desires a person only when he or she is desired by someone else. Girards proposition accounts for the perversity of the MathildeJulien relationship, especially when he begins courting the widow Mme de Fervaques to pique Mathildes jealousy, but also for Juliens fascination with and membership of the high society he simultaneously desires and despises. To help achieve a literary effect, Stendhal wrote some of the epigraphs literary, poetic, historic quotations that he attributed to others.

Literary and critical significance

Andr Gide said that 'The Red and the Black' was a novel ahead of its time, that it was a novel for readers in the 20th century. In Stendhals time, prose novels included dialogue and omniscient narrator descriptions; his great contribution to literary technique was describing the psychologies (feelings, thoughts, inner monologues) of the characters, and as a result he is considered the creator of the psychological novel.

In Jean-Paul Sartre's play 'Les Mains Sales' (1948), the protagonist Hugo Barine suggests pseudonyms for himself, including Julien Sorel, whom he resembles.

Joyce Carol Oates stated in the Afterword to her novel 'them' that she originally titled the manuscript 'Love and Money' as a nod to classic 19th century novels, among them, 'The Red and The Black' "whose class-conscious hero Julien Sorel is less idealistic, greedier, and crueler than Jules Wendell but is clearly his spiritual kinsman".


'Le Rouge et le Noir,' 'Chronique du XIXe sicle' (1830) was first translated to English c. 1900; the best-known translation, 'The Red and the Black' (1926), by Charles Kenneth Scott-Moncrief, has been, like his other translations, characterised as one of his fine, spirited renderings, not entirely accurate on minor points of meaning . . . Scott Moncrieffs versions have not really been superseded.'The Oxford guide to Literature in English translation', by Peter France, p. 276. The version by Robert M. Adams, for the Norton Critical Editions series, is also highly regarded; it is more colloquial; his edition includes an informative section on backgrounds and sources, and excerpts from critical studies;'Stendhal: the red and the black', by Stirling Haig, Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-521-34982-6, and ISBN 978-0-521-34982-6. it is modernized compared to Moncrieff, but also contains many errors on detailed points. Burton Raffels 2006 translation for the Modern Library is sometimes criticized, e.g., as actually a vulgar, anachronistic retelling of Stendhals novel. I recall abandoning it in disgust when the main character refers to his life as a total blast . In its stead, that reviewer recommends C. K. Scott-Moncrieffs translation, as revised by scholar Ann Jefferson, (Everyman paperback, ISBN 0-460-87643-0) http://www.amazon.com/review/R154QCQOPNJKT/ref=cm_cr_rdpvoterdr#R154QCQOPNJKT.2115.Helpful.Reviews

Burned in 1964 Brazil

Following the 1964 Brazilian coup d'tat, General Justino Alves Bastos, commander of the Third Army, ordered, in Rio Grande do Sul, the burning of all "subversive books". Among the books he branded as subversive was 'The Red and the Black'.[http://books.google.ca/books?id=LK86lhgcrikC&pg=PA546&lpg=PA546&dq=bradford+burns+history+of+brazil&source=bl&ots=HCEwtb86UJ&sig=yxqSVT55_jOAamAsjvlpVn4gIBg&hl=en&ei=xJzlTLXlAc2fOurSzYsK&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEsQ6AEwBg#v=snippet&q=red%20and%20the%20black&f=false E. Bradford Burns, A History of Brazil, Columbia University Press, 1993, p. 451.]

Film adaptations

* 'Der geheime Kurier' ('The Secret Courier') is a silent 1928 German film by Gennaro Righelli, featuring Ivan Mosjoukine, Lil Dagover, and Valeria Blanka.

* 'Il Corriere del re' ('The Courier of the King') is a black-and-white 1947 Italian film adaptation of the story also directed by Gennaro Righelli. It features Rossano Brazzi, Valentina Cortese, and Irasema Dilin.

*Another film adaptation of the novel was released in 1954, directed by Claude Autant-Lara. It stars Gerard Philipe, Antonella Lualdi and Danielle Darrieux. It won the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics award for the best film of the year.

*'Le Rouge et le Noir' is a 1961 French made-for-TV film version directed by Pierre Cardinal, with Robert Etcheverry, Micheline Presle, Marie Lafort, and Jean-Roger Caussimon.

*A BBC TV mini-series in five episodes 'The Scarlet and the Black', was made in 1965, starring John Stride, June Tobin, and Karin Fernald.

*'Krasnoe i chyornoe' ('Red and Black') is a 1976 Soviet film version, directed by Sergei Gerasimov, with Nikolai Yeryomenko Ml, Natalya Bondarchuk, and Natalya Belokhvostikova.

*Another BBC TV mini-series called 'Scarlet and Black' was first broadcast in 1993, starring Ewan McGregor, Rachel Weisz and Stratford Johns as the Abbe Pirard. A notable addition to the plot was the spirit of Napoleon (Christopher Fulford) who advises Sorel (McGregor) through his rise and fall.

*A made-for-TV film version of the novel called 'The Red and the Black' was first broadcast in 1997 by Koch Lorber Films, starring Kim Rossi Stuart, Carole Bouquet and Judith Godrche; it was directed by Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe. This version is available on DVD.

See also


* Burt, Daniel S. 'The Novel 100'. Checkmark Books, 2003. ISBN 0-8160-4558-5


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