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2012/13 Group Reads - Archives > The Red and the Black - Book Two: Ch.36-45

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message 1: by Silver (last edited Jun 15, 2012 01:11PM) (new)

Silver Book Two

Chapter 35 A Storm

Chapter 36 Painful Details

Chapter 37 A Dungeon

Chapter 38 A Man of Power

Chapter 39 Intrigue

Chapter 40 Tranquillity

Chapter 41 The Trial

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45


message 2: by Silver (new)

Silver There are three questions which came to my mind in complementing this book.

1. There has been much discussion about the role of French Politics, and the need one may or may not have for truly understanding this book. Which got me thinking:

Is this book still relatable and relevant today? Does it really carry over time? Or though an interesting read, is it essentially dated?

2. Does Julian become a Martyr in his death?

3. Why do you think Stendhal left the last four chapters unnamed? IS there any significance that "The Trail" is the last titled chapter?


message 3: by Lily (last edited Jun 15, 2012 08:25PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Silver wrote: "...Is this book still relatable and relevant today? Does it really carry over time? Or though an interesting read, is it essentially dated? ..."

I can probably answer that better if I ever get around to reading A Place of Greater Safety: A Novel by Hilary Mantel. I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but that is the way I thought of this book. But maybe good historical fiction includes more historical background, assuming the reader is unfamiliar with the period and is reading to learn about it.

The book is, of course, dated, as all literature not of one's own period must be, at some level or another. But that can be part of its value. This one is close enough to modernity that comparisons can be muddled sometimes -- i.e., one needs to stop to ask, is this the way things still happen today, rather than reading blindly from both time perspectives, now and past.


message 4: by Silver (last edited Jun 15, 2012 10:57PM) (new)

Silver Lily wrote: "The book is, of course, dated, as all literature not of one's own period must be, at some level or another. But that can be part of its value. This one is close enough to modernity that comparisons can be muddled sometimes -- i.e., one needs to stop to ask, is this the way things still happen today, rather than reading blindly from both time perspectives, now and past..."

While that is true, that are some classics one can read in which it can be seen how many of the ideas and events within the book directly relate to what is happening in the modern world, and can sometimes seem to directly relate and apply to modern events, and really do carry over through time remarkably well. In which you can directly connect what is being read with what you are seeing and experiencing, or reading about in the news.


message 5: by Lily (last edited Jun 15, 2012 08:42PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Well, I'd say RB has some of that carryover, especially in terms of opportunity, upward striving, the politics of knowing the right people, arguments regarding the death penalty, ..., as well in the trials and tribulations of illicit love. Still, RB is definitely set in a particular period and time and belongs to it, again, I'll say, like a good historical novel, but this story was current at the time it was written.


message 6: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Classic novels are often described as those which stand the test of time because the ideas and messages they contain retain their relevance. The language may become archaic but the ideas do not. RB fits into this category and I particularly find the political message about power and its corrupting influence relevant.


message 7: by Lily (last edited Jun 16, 2012 11:07AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments MadgeUK wrote: "...I particularly find the political message about power and its corrupting influence relevant...."

Please do say more. (I guess I've just not seen much that wasn't just too obvious to bother commenting upon.)


message 8: by Lynnm (last edited Jun 17, 2012 06:53AM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Julien, like the French people, chose 'the throne and the altar' over the principles of the Revolution - Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite! - and was, like the Republic, doomed. "

Madge wrote this in the previous thread, but I'm going to discuss it here because it ties into my understanding of the overall book.

Is Stendhal really saying that Julien "chose" the aristocracy and the church? Or is he saying that Julien had no choice but to try to work within the system to initiate change? Julien wants revolution; he wants to be in the military. But there isn't a revolution and there is no military that is taking on the people and institutions in power at that time.

And can there always be a revolution? There have been revolutions in France, but the same people have come back into power. Therefore, isn't there a point that we have to move from revolution, and try to make changes to the power structure itself?

I don't have the same negative view of Julien that others have here. If Julien was perfect, he wouldn't be believable. And he represents the "people" of France, who obviously aren't perfect as well and who are struggling with a way out of their situations into some type of paradigm where they can have some type of power.

The way I read the novel - and I could be very wrong - is that Julien is the outsider (i.e., the people in the lower classes) trying to move into a very closed society of the powerful (the aristocracy and the church). Not that he likes the aristocracy or the church, but he knows that the only way to have power is within those institutions. And it is, again, the only way open at the time.

And Stendhal's point is that the aristocracy and the church will never allow that. Julien gets too close; therefore, he must be eliminated.

To me, Stendhal uses the idea of language and voice to symbolize Julien's journey. At first, he has the language and voice of a peasant - he can only mimic the language and voice of those in power when he memorizes passages of the Bible in Latin. I.e., he knows the words, but there is no real understanding.

Then, as he meets Madame de Renal, he begins - but only slightly - to really learn the language of those in power. He's still copying, but he does find his own voice at times. And he begins to use those in power (i.e., Madame de Renal) to move into a position of power.

He moves to Paris, which has much more power. The act of copying the letters is to me very symbolic. He doesn't really know the language, but the voice of power and his voice become one. And he's understood by those in power. In a way, he uses Mathilde, but he has to use her - it is the only way to progress.

And part of Julien's problem is that while he is using Madame de Renal and Mathilde in one way, he loves them as well. That undercuts his rise to power - he feels too much. He's not cutthroat enough.

And in these situations, he's seem as a threat by some of the men, but he's still a minor threat, an annoyance if you will.

But when he marries Mathilde, he moves from the outside right into the inside. He gets a title and a military commission. He's no longer mimicking and copying and speaking along with those in power...he moves into a position where he can have his own power and his own voice within that system. And again, there he must be eliminated, because that won't do.

I also think that Julien never really truly understands the language and voice of those in power. Therefore, he is doomed. At his trial, he criticizes those in power; if he truly understand them, he never would have done that. He would have stroked their ego, and slowly taken over their power after they trusted him. But again, he's not that duplicitous and cutthroat enough.

So in a way, he is a martyr type.


message 9: by Lynnm (last edited Jun 17, 2012 06:45AM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Oh, one last point, and I know I'm "talking" too much here given my lengthy last post so I will stop after this. :-)

I think one way we can tell that Stendhal intends Julien to be a hero is his physical appearance. He's young, he's beautiful, and the people are fascinated with him.

He represents the "new": new government, new power structure, etc.

But he is also described as having feminine features: i.e., in the end, he'll never gain any type of power. Power is held by men, brute strength. There isn't any room for the intellect or sensibilities.


message 10: by MadgeUK (last edited Jun 17, 2012 12:39PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Great posts Lynn - thanks!! I agree except that Stendhal was a revolutionary who thought that the struggle should continue, which is why R&B was a propaganda tool against the Bourbon Restoration. I see Julien's highly symbolic death and burial in the cave at Vergy as something which heralds a resurrection of the revolutionary ideals and that is eventually what happened. Modern France, the Third and Fourth Republic, arose out of the 'ashes' of people like Julien and triumphed over the aristocracy. Moreover those same ideals, when they were in the French melting pot, influenced America's founding fathers, and brought Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite to millions more. Also, power was held by men but there were also women like Mme Renal and Mathilde (female authors, Sufffragettes...) striving for their liberty and equality, something we see being gradually realised today.

One of the things I thought about when reading of Julien's struggles was the brave French Resistance fighters during the war, who kept up the ideals of the revolution whilst living under the yoke of the Nazis and who contributed significantly to winning the war. They too were Outsiders.


message 11: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Great posts Lynn - thanks!! I agree except that Stendhal was a revolutionary who thought that the struggle should continue, which is why R&B was a propaganda tool against the Bourbon Restoration. ..."

That's true...yes, there was another Revolution, and it was the Julien's who held the hope alive.

My reading may be a tad too pessimistic. ;) Yes, there were changes - big changes.

But we can still improve. Which is why I like Julien. The Outsider taking on the powers. A bit clueless. Certainly flawed. Falling short of the mark. But still, giving it a go when most people refuse to even try.

And I like your connection of Julien's struggles to the French Resistance fighters.

Always have loved the French motto, Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. As with most things, the French generally get it right.


message 12: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments I've not figured out where to place Julien in my personal oeuvre of fictional characters, but I do suspect he has become one, along with Marcel, Odette, Becky Sharpe, Emma Bovary, Don Quixote and Sancho, Tess, Dorothea Brooke, Jane Eyre, Lisbeth Salander, and so many others. I am glad to have met him. Will I also remember his female loves or male friends and tormenters -- well, probably more by type than by name.


message 13: by Silver (new)

Silver Julian was certainly an interesting character I think, though I do not know if he has made as strong as an impression upon me as certain other characters have. Part of which I think is do to the fact being left with predominately mixed feelings about him. Because I don't have a strong emotional reaction to him, either good or bad, he does not have a lasting influence. Throughout the book there were moments in which I would find I really disliked him, and than there were other moments where I found him more sympathetic, and than he would do something infuriating again. So I did kind of feel neutral towards him by the end. I was neither overly saddened by his death, nor was I eagerly awaiting to see him get what he deserved. But I enjoyed the book, and found it to be interesting reading.


message 14: by Maria (new)

Maria When I started reading the book, I really did not like Julian. He felt like an antagonistic character whose beliefs and desires were very "pie in the sky". As I got into the book, his views and thoughts about society and women were interesting and probably relevant when Stendhal wrote the book, however I found myself disliking him even more. Then I got towards the end of the book and couldn't believe how it ended. I was talking with someone who read it and they told me to wait until the end and he was correct. It was almost as Julian fulfilled his fantasies and grew up. Overall I extremely enjoyed the book.


message 15: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments I don't think that Julien is meant to be a completely sympathetic character. He's not completely likeable, but then again, he's not a villain either.

He's meant to be somewhat flawed. His story is a journey that symbolizes the story of the "people" of France.

As a character, he won't go down in my list of favorite characters. But like Lily, I am glad that I met him (lovely way to put it Lily!). And I definitely won't forget him.


message 16: by Silver (new)

Silver I am not sure if this has been mentioned in the background material anywhere, but an interesting side note, it said on the back of my book that this book was inspired by true events. I don't have my book with me now, so I cannot quote exactly, but basically Stendhal came across a newspaper article about a young man who became a tutor, and ended up seducing two different women which ultimately led to him shooting one of them.


message 17: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Yes, this was mentioned in the background stuff but it was woven in with parts of Stendhal's own experiences, and political views, too.


message 18: by Silver (new)

Silver MadgeUK wrote: "Yes, this was mentioned in the background stuff but it was woven in with parts of Stendhal's own experiences, and political views, too."

Well for people like me who don't necessarily read all of the background material there it is haha


message 19: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments LOL. I've never been a virgin - well hardly ever:D.


message 20: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Silver wrote: "I am not sure if this has been mentioned in the background material anywhere, but an interesting side note, it said on the back of my book that this book was inspired by true events. I don't have m..."

Thanks for that information, Silver. I missed it in the Background thread.

So, there was a real Julien ... :-)


message 21: by Karel (new)

Karel | 86 comments I havent understand yet why Julien shot Ms Renal, I mean, yes, with her letter she ruined his opportunity of nobility and richness and I guess she offended his gigantic ego, but to go and shot her??? I dont know, seems a little extreme to me.

Then at jail he expended all his time mourning for Ms Renal while Mathilde was in his arms... more that I dont understand.

Finally, while I´ve truly grown to hate Julien in all his aspects (selfish, ambitious, manipulative, hypocrite, voluble, etc) I yet was outraged that the jury condemned him for murder when Ms Renal was still alive!!!


message 22: by Silver (new)

Silver Karel wrote: "I havent understand yet why Julien shot Ms Renal, I mean, yes, with her letter she ruined his opportunity of nobility and richness and I guess she offended his gigantic ego, but to go and shot her?..."

Throughout the book Julian displayed an inclination for violence, and a short temper. He had threatened to run Mathilde through with a sword once because he imagined that she was mocking him with her friends and declared she favored one of her suitors more than him. So I think he was like a ticking time bomb ready to go off. He had all this anger and hate pent up inside of them.

Than when he finally succeeds in achieving all he wants, he conquers the nobility though his defilement and possession of Mathilde, is granted a new name, a new title, all he ever had dreamed of and fought for, Renal, of whom I think always haunted him in a way. Renal who was his first love, and who had a tenderness for him, a genuine feeling of warmth and love without duplicity, of which Mathilde always lacked. Rears up again and spoils everything.

I think part of the shooting of Renal was symbolic of the revolution and the class struggle, and the fact that Julian will never truly be one of them. As the expression says "if you can't beat them, joint them" Julian had tried to join them, but he was ultimately rejected, and so his shooting of Renal was his last stand, his last statement, a rebellion against them, and everything they stood for.

I think in a way it may have also been a reaction against his own guilt, and the fact that he felt the woman whom he truly loved betrayed him. I think he knows the truth of the accusation that Renal made against him, and he never truly got over her, and so he projected all of his unresolved feelings, about himself and his own deeds onto her, and saw shooting her as a way of finally severing his ties with the past.

And part of that also addresses why he had continued to mourn Renal when he had Mathidle, because he had always kept his love for Renal, and realized that she was the woman of whom he always truly loved, because she had in turn loved him selflessly and unconditionally. Mathilde represented a world that Julian despised, and I think part of her own love for Julian was driven out of a desire for her to martyr herself, she and Julian were of the like mind. While Renal had an innocence to her, and sincerity. She was tender, soft, and warm.


message 23: by Lily (last edited Jun 25, 2012 12:41PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Silver wrote: "...While Renal had an innocence to her, and sincerity. She was tender, soft, and warm...."

Well, some of us would ask, what is innocent about even a naive, provincial woman who cuckolds her husband?

(And, I am not saying she was "wrong" making such a choice, just hardly qualifying for the appellation of "innocence.")


message 24: by MadgeUK (last edited Jun 25, 2012 12:35PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments True Lily. She wasn't innocent once she had succumbed. And she did pursue Julien.

So I think he was like a ticking time bomb ready to go off. He had all this anger and hate pent up inside of them.

Just like the French population before and after the Bourbon Restoration.


message 25: by Lily (last edited Jun 25, 2012 12:44PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Karel wrote: "...I´ve truly grown to hate Julien in all his aspects (selfish, ambitious, manipulative, hypocrite, voluble, etc)..."

But wasn't he also so vulnerably human -- unloved as a child, abused by his brothers, exposed to a world where he survived by his wits, capable of enlisting the sympathy of others, whether men or women, yet lacking in the skills and propensity to honor their offers of mentoring or friendship or even intimacy, confused about the demands of the opportunities available, crushed by the very cultures that called forth his talents....


message 26: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Yes, at the end of the day, there wasn't much innocent about Madame de Renal. And the letter that she wrote - truly the work of a woman scorned, with the sole intention of screwing Julien over.


message 27: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Lily wrote: "But wasn't he also so vulnerably human -- unloved as a child, abused by his brothers, exposed to a world where he survived by his wits, capable of enlisting the sympathy of others, whether men or women, yet lacking in the skills and propensity to honor their offers of mentoring or friendship or even intimacy, confused about the demands of the opportunities available, crushed by very cultures that called forth his talents...."

Nicely said... :-)


message 28: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Again, just like the French people, who were unable to capitalise upon the ideals of the Revolution, descended into a chaotic bloodbath and then were crushed by the Restoration...


message 29: by Silver (new)

Silver Lily wrote: "Silver wrote: "...While Renal had an innocence to her, and sincerity. She was tender, soft, and warm...."

Well, some of us would ask, what is innocent about even a naive, provincial woman who cuck..."


Well I can see her as innocent, considering she went straight from the convent into the hands of her husband, a man whom she never loved, nor had she ever had experience with love before. Julian was the first time she had known love of a man. (Whether one sees her actions as wrong or right) I believe there was an innocence in her knowing love for the first time. And she did not avidly pursue Julian, she did not cunningly seduce him. I do not know if she would have taken initiative upon her own feelings if Julian himself had not come to play the role of seducer to her. And she did initially struggle against him and her feelings.

And in compassion to Madthilde I would say Renal was innocent. Mathilde knew exactly what she was doing and what she was about. She was manipulative and scheming who did play Julian, she taunted him, deceived him, toyed with him.


message 30: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Silver - yes, there was some aspect of innocence to Madame de Renal. In some ways, she was a lot like Julien, just trying to find her way in the world.

But I lost sympathy with her with the letter. She went from very likeable to unlikeable in a couple of pages.

Someone moves on, they move on. Deal with it.

Not that her actions justify what Julien did. Neither are innocent.


message 31: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments She was certainly more innocent than Mathilde initially but she blotted her copybook:)


message 32: by Silver (new)

Silver Lynnm wrote: "Silver - yes, there was some aspect of innocence to Madame de Renal. In some ways, she was a lot like Julien, just trying to find her way in the world.

But I lost sympathy with her with the lette..."


I cannot say that I really held it against her or blamed her for sending the letter, while it may have not been the right thing to do, and perhaps she should not have done it, but I understand her doing it.


message 33: by Lily (last edited Jun 25, 2012 01:53PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Silver wrote: "Well I can see her as innocent, considering she went straight from the convent into the hands of her husband, a man whom she never loved, nor had she ever had experience with love before. Julian was the first time she had known love of a man...."

Not certain what you are calling "love of a man." Certainly M. Renal had a conjugal relationship with her husband, given their bevy of children. The convent at least generally provided a protected place for young women (and may have had nuns who were role models for the caring mother M. Renal seems), rather than the abusive environment the young Julien had to overcome and which was probably one of the reasons he reacted so readily to M. Renal's kindnesses.

Her friend tried early in the story to warn M. Renal of her naivete -- which is different than innocence.

I am not as certain as you that Mathilde knew exactly what she was doing and what she was about. She struck me as a young woman as much attempting to define herself, albeit in very different material and sophisticated circumstances, as M. Renal. (To some extent, with her youth, she came across to me as more "innocent" than M. Renal, at least at first, but also in her willingness to minister to Julien in jail.) I found both women to be both sympathetic and, at the same time, frustrating creatures.

Consideration of the meaning of innocence: (view spoiler)


message 34: by Silver (new)

Silver Lily wrote: "Silver wrote: "Well I can see her as innocent, considering she went straight from the convent into the hands of her husband, a man whom she never loved, nor had she ever had experience with love be..."

I meant love in the romantic sense. She was in love with Julian. She had never really had the opportunity to experience the feelings of love before. She has had sexual congress with her husband, but I do not think there was ever any feeling of love between them.

In regards to Mathidle and "knowing what she wants" in relation to Julian, Mathilde was much more the aggressor than Renal ever was.


message 35: by Lily (last edited Jun 25, 2012 01:50PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Again, just like the French people, who were unable to capitalise upon the ideals of the Revolution, descended into a chaotic bloodbath and then were crushed by the Restoration..."

Thanks for drawing worth the parallels of the larger society to the personal story. I suspect we could see many of the same stories playing out in the Middle East today (as well as elsewhere).


message 36: by MadgeUK (last edited Jun 25, 2012 01:49PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I do not think the religious connotation of 'freedom from sin' is applicable here because Stendhal was an atheist and is unlikely to have thought of Mme Renal that way. 'Artlessness' is a word which appeals to me and that also fits in with her naivete.


message 37: by Lily (last edited Jun 25, 2012 01:55PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Lynnm wrote: "Yes, at the end of the day, there wasn't much innocent about Madame de Renal. And the letter that she wrote - truly the work of a woman scorned, with the sole intention of screwing Julien over."

I find jealousy and envy among the hardest human emotions to understand. It seems to me that they make the world smaller than it actually can be -- and are often surrogates for fear, especially of loss.


message 38: by Silver (new)

Silver On the qustion of innocence, I do think that this is a rather fitting discription of Renal:

(1) : freedom from guile or cunning : ARTLESSNESS, SIMPLICITY (2) : lack of understanding or penetration : SILLINESS, NAïveté (3) : lack of knowledge : IGNORANCE


message 39: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments I'm with you there Silver:).


message 40: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Silver wrote: "On the qustion of innocence, I do think that this is a rather fitting discription of Renal:

(1) : freedom from guile or cunning : ARTLESSNESS, SIMPLICITY (2) : lack of understanding or penetration : SILLINESS, NAïveté (3) : lack of knowledge : IGNORANCE"


I can agree; still, those are not usually enough for me to apply the word "innocence" or "innocent." Also, one can ask doesn't M. Renal's confession indicate a knowledge (of questionable action), even if one is not certain she should have felt a need to confess. I just wanted her to be a decent human being in the face of her choices, rather than to sell out Julien. That somehow seems closer to "innocence" and "purity" than her actions.


message 41: by Lily (last edited Jun 25, 2012 02:33PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I do not think the religious connotation of 'freedom from sin' is applicable here because Stendhal was an atheist and is unlikely to have thought of Mme Renal that way. 'Artlessness' is a word whi..."

I don't think the idea of "sin" is particularly relevant, either. But there is the "responsibility" associated with commitment or covenant. Mme. Renal education should certainly have made her aware of such. She may choose to break that commitment -- that is her freedom in her personal journey of life. But, she still stands accountable and responsible to such choices.


message 42: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Silver wrote: "In regards to Mathidle and "knowing what she wants" in relation to Julian, Mathilde was much more the aggressor than Renal ever was...."

Well, by the time Mathidle came around, Julien was far closer to being knowledgeable and an equal than when he was essentially seduced by Mme. Renal -- although one can argue as to who seduced whom between those two.


message 43: by Silver (last edited Jun 25, 2012 03:23PM) (new)

Silver Lily wrote: "Silver wrote: "On the qustion of innocence, I do think that this is a rather fitting discription of Renal:

(1) : freedom from guile or cunning : ARTLESSNESS, SIMPLICITY (2) : lack of understandi..."



I think that it is a question of perceptions of innocence. While Renal is guilty of having an affair with Julian, I see her nature as being (or had been at the start) still essentially innocent. While she may have been aware of the wrongness of her actions, she simply wanted to experience love and I do not see her as maliciously wanting to hurt her husband, or cunningly trying to cuckold him. She was acting out of a purity of love, while at the same time her actions may have lead up to negative consequences, it was not her intent to cause harm.

But it is true that her action in sending the letter was constantly not innocent, and that was done for malevolent reasons, and as she had proceeded in her affair with Julian, there is evidence of her innocence starting to fade more.

Initially when I had mentioned Renal's innocence I was thinking more of how she was when Julian first knew her, and her initial and original character in comparison to Mathilde, whom I never once took for being innocent.

So in the Renal. Julian, and Mathilde triangle I can see Julian being drawn to, and lamenting the memory of the innocence of Renal, (and one can argue that he was the one responsible for taking the innocence away from her) opposed to the duplicity and manipulativeness of Mathilde. Mathilde was never truly innocent with him in the way that Renal once was.


message 44: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Lily: I certainly agree that Mme Renal's education should have taught her right from wrong although it might also have taught her that love itself was pure since it was associated with Jesus etc. It is this kind of love that I think Silver sees in her. I see it as love which was corrupted, just as Christianity has become corrupted. Like Eve, she was tempted and succumbed, so everything which subsequently happened hinges on that, including Julien's Gethsemane-like death at Vergy.


message 45: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Despite Mme. Renal's education in a convent, while such certainly impacted the ideas to which she was exposed (which, we know only too well, could have been either compassionate or perverted or both -- this story doesn't take us there), I see her actions with Julien in human, secular terms rather than particularly with religious symbolism. Mme. Renal is portrayed as a caring, affectionate, loving mother who seemingly received little or none of those in the romantic ways she desired from her husband. To begin with, she extended those characteristics of her personality to the young tutor who came to teach her children. From there, the strong needs and desires that are human took dominance, without mature responsible oversight on anyone's part, wife, husband, tutor, except perhaps the attempts of her friend.

In some ways, that same lack of a sense of self responsibility may have led to Mme. Renal's jealousy. Stendhal does an interesting job of portraying how rash, intuitive, emotional responses can lead to catastrophic results -- and he does so not once, but again and again in varying sequences and scenarios. To me, it is part of the brilliance of his story telling. For awhile, I felt as if the sometimes whiplash like emotions were over dramatic and over done, whether Julien or Mme. Renal or Mathilde or one of the other characters. Perhaps they were, but ultimately they seemed effective as story telling. And, as Madge has said, they may have been reflective of the machinations of larger society as well as France reeled through the aftermath of its Revolution and the actions of Napoleon.


message 46: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Good points Lily. Stendhal never married and had a pretty tumultous love life himself, so this may be why the story rings true.


message 47: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Good points Lily. Stendhal never married and had a pretty tumultuous love life himself, so this may be why the story rings true."

I suspect so. The litany of the women in his life suggests a variety of experiences of the nuances of love.

Mathilde comes across to me as the spoiled rich girl -- but I also see rebellious and sweet and caring sides to her, with an element of risk-taking, somewhat like Julien himself, but deriving from a very different background growing up and also constrained by the expectations upon females of her class.


message 48: by Lynnm (last edited Jun 26, 2012 01:33PM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Lily: I certainly agree that Mme Renal's education should have taught her right from wrong although it might also have taught her that love itself was pure since it was associated with Jesus etc. ..."

I like your Eve connection.

But the story goes on. Eve then offers the apple to Adam, and from that we get the negative depictions of Eve: temptress and seductress who causes the fall of mankind. That's why we have all the writing in the New Testament that demand that women should be chaste, silent, and obedient: can't trust women. ;) And why we have Mary; she's the opposite of Eve.

Does Madame de Renal cause the "fall" of Julien? I would say that it is somewhere in between. Just like Eve, she deserves some of the blame, but not all the blame. Julien didn't say no to her, just as Adam was culpable as well.


message 49: by MadgeUK (last edited Jun 27, 2012 12:51AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Mary the opposite of Eve? She seems to be chaste, silent and obedient too? Perfect mother, perfect wife etc. Or do you mean Mary Magdalene?

If you take the traditional p.o.v. Eve/women cause the fall of men just because they are there :)

As with all seductions, except rape, it takes two to tango.


message 50: by Lynnm (last edited Jun 27, 2012 04:59AM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Mary the opposite of Eve? She seems to be chaste, silent and obedient too? Perfect mother, perfect wife etc. Or do you mean Mary Magdalene?

If you take the traditional p.o.v. Eve/women cause the ..."


Sorry...I wasn't clear enough.

The way Eve's actions have been interpreted both in the New Testament and by early Biblical scholars was that she was weak, and therefore, easily seduced. But she is also the seductress and temptress when it comes to offering the apple to Adam. So she's blamed more for the fall of humankind than Adam is.

And, because of Eve's actions, all women are seen as the enemy of men. So men, beware. And in order to rein in these wicked, natural inclinations of women, women are told that they must be chaste, silent, and obedient. They say it is to protect women, but really, it is to protect men from women.

When Jesus comes, he is reversing the fall of humankind. So, we have to have some woman in the story who enbodies the exact opposite of Eve. And that is Mary, mother of Jesus. She's what women are supposed to be.

The Madonna-whore paradigm. Of course, women are neither Eve nor Mary; we are somewhere in between.

But men write the stories, and that is the way they usually depict women: women are either very good or very bad.

Which is why the Wife of Bath asks, who painted the lion, tell me, who?, and rips up the books. Ironically written by a man... ;)


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