The Red and the Black by Stendahl

It took me forever, but I did it! The Red and the Black is quite the book to read. It’s not necessarily the size of the novel, but its content and plot that was fairly heavy.The novel’s main character is Julien Sorel and the plot covers his life from when he is a servant to him becoming a well-to-do man of society in France. Julien also has many “conquests” along the way which are mostly what the novel discusses, in addition to his social climbing.

Julien began his life as a peasant working for his terrible father. In his spare time, he reads and learns as much as he can. As such, de Renal, a heavyweight in the town’s hierarchy, hires Julien as the tutor for his children. de Renal’s wife falls in love with Julien. Julien makes her a happier woman, if you get what I mean, and in return, she teaches Julien all about society and social queues. Things happen and Julien is forced to attend a seminary and excels at the seminary, however priests are supposed to be humble and not look for success, which of course, Julien does. In seminary, Julien is hired to go to Paris to run a parish. Before he leaves he wants to say goodbye to de Renal and gets caught by her husband who ends up shooting at him. Needless to say, Julien leaves town immediately.

Book II begins with Julien in Paris and being hired by a high aristocrat, de la Mole. de la Mole gives Julien lots of duties to aid him in his finances, and also de la Mole’s daughter, Mathilde, takes a liking to Julien. Julien travels to a variety of places for de la Mole, and is very hesitant at getting involved with Mathilde, but still does. Mathilde becomes pregnant, and while her father is very angry, he quickly calms down and agrees that Julien and Mathilde will go off to the country to have their baby. Before they can leave, a letter from Renal comes and says that Julien is an opportunist and uses women to climb the social strata. Julien attempts to kill Renal but only harms her. He is caught and imprisoned and at his trial pleads guilty to climbing the social latter, but is found guilty and sentenced to death.

I thoroughly enjoyed Book I of this novel. Stendahl is a masterful story teller who paints a vivid picture of Julien’s life and the hardships that he faced. He rapidly develops a plot line in which a chapter is 3 pages long so the story develops rather quickly. This is sometimes challenging to read for all of a sudden a main character is in another country and the reader is confused as to why or how they got there. Book I really delves in Julien as a child and how his attributes of always needing to succeed in intelligence came about. Moreover, when Julien found Renal and felt impassioned to her, it was almost like a first infatuation for him.

Book II on the other hand dragged on, a lot. It was very hard to follow and there were so many social queues that I didn’t understand until multiple pages later or at all. I also got a little annoyed with Julien for he never decided on what he wanted. He did want to be a highly regarded aristocrat, but regarding love, he never really made a decision toward Mathilde. It was almost as if she was there, she was pretty, and he was bored so he asked himself “why not?” Julien became an aggravating character in Book II, where he was annoying in Book I, Book II exacerbated Julien’s need for stroking something he never got during childhood.

All in all, I can cross this novel off of my list and it was a good read. But I’m not quite sure how it got to be a classic. Regardless, I enjoyed it and it had a good and captivating plot line. Go read it if you have weeks to devote to it!


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