Charlaralotte's Reviews > The Red and the Black

The Red and the Black by Stendhal
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's review
Mar 13, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2009

I must learn French and read this in the original. I also must read more about French society after the fall of Napoleon.

At any rate, bit slow going at first as I got a handle on provincial class and political systems in 1830s France. Written for a public with much more leisure time on their hands, but could see how the style of the book has influenced the structure of modern first-person-narrated political novels.

The end was marvelous and magnificent as all the story lines (of church corruption, personal myths of heroism, the influence of public approval/disapproval, and how intimate personal relationships can turn in a second into new configurations) converged upon one event.

Particularly liked how Mme la Mole is guided by her personal myth of medieval heroicism & seeks to see Julien as the modern day equivalent. Meanwhile, he yearns to become an instant hero of the battlefield to escape his impoverished life, but since this route has been closed because of Napoleon's exit, he is constantly dissatisfied with the alternatives (going into the Church, tutoring, business management) because they cannot elevate him quickly enough to a higher class. He knows what Mme la Mole's myth is, and manipulates that to win her attention.

I am reminded of "The Phantom Empire," where the author reflects that we are all communicating and behaving based on movie plots that we have subconsciously adapted as the plots for our own lives.

Julien's affair with Madame Renal is interesting for its quite modern examination of the tiny acts and non-acts that have huge psychological effects on both parties.

I suppose my only disappointment was that I found no one quite likeable in this story. Every character, when fully exposed in all their charm and hypocrisy was slightly tedious. But then Stendhal isn't going to let anyone off the hook. All of society behaves abominably, some by no fault of their own, and some by quite conscious thought. A bit of a downer, though so true. We all stand accused.
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Nathan Hobby I like your review. I think the reason we don't like any of the characters is that Stendhal doesn't really like any of them either.

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