History of Literature







Stendhal


 



Stendhal



 

 

Stendhal

French author
pseudonym of Marie-henri Beyle
born Jan. 23, 1783, Grenoble, Fr.
died March 23, 1842, Paris

Main
one of the most original and complex French writers of the first half of the 19th century, chiefly known for his works of fiction. His finest novels are Le Rouge et le noir (1830; The Red and the Black) and La Chartreuse de Parme (1839; The Charterhouse of Parma).

Life.
Stendhal is only one of the many pseudonyms Henri Beyle adopted. His father, Chérubin Beyle, was a barrister in Grenoble’s high court of justice. Henri’s mother died when he was seven, and this loss, which he felt keenly, increased his sense of solitude and his resentment toward his father. But, though he tended throughout his life to stress the dreary and oppressive atmosphere of his home after his mother’s death, there is no reason to believe that he was deprived of affection. As a student he grew interested in literature and mathematics. In 1799 he left for Paris, ostensibly to prepare for the entrance examination to the École Polytechnique, but in reality to escape from Grenoble and from paternal rule.

His secret ambition on arriving in Paris was to become a successful playwright. But some highly placed relatives of his, the Darus, obtained an appointment for him as second lieutenant in the French military forces stationed in Italy. This led him to discover Piedmont, Lombardy, and the delights of Milan. The culture and landscape of Italy were the revelation that was to play a psychologically and thematically determining role in his life and works.

In 1802 the 19-year-old Henri Beyle was back in Paris and at work on a number of literary projects, none of which he completed. He dreamed of becoming a modern Molière, enrolled in drama classes, worked at ridding himself of his provincial accent, and fell in love with a second-rate actress (Mélanie Louason), whom he followed to Marseille. By then he was keeping a diary (posthumously published as his Journal) and writing other texts dealing with his intimate thoughts.

The year 1806 proved to be a turning point. Count Pierre Daru, having been appointed intendant-general of Napoleon’s army, had his young protégé sent as an adjunct military commissary to the German city of Brunswick. This was the beginning of an administrative career in the French army that allowed Henri Beyle to discover parts of Germany and Austria. His army appointment gave him a direct experience of the Napoleonic regime and of Europe at war. He watched Moscow go up in flames, took part in the French forces’ retreat from Russia, and helped organize the military defense of the province of Dauphiné back in France. In 1814, when the French empire fell, he decided to settle in Italy.

From the moment he took up residence in Milan, his literary vocation became irreversible. He became friends with Milanese liberals and Carbonari patriots, discovered the Edinburgh Review, studied music and the visual arts, and published his first books: Vies de Haydn, de Mozart et de Métastase (1814; Lives of Haydn, Mozart and Metastasio) and Histoire de la peinture en Italie (1817; “History of Painting in Italy”). In these early works Henri Beyle was not always above plagiarism, which was seasoned, however, with brilliant and original insights. His travel book Rome, Naples et Florence en 1817 also appeared (a later version was published in 1826), and this was the first time he used the pseudonym of Stendhal. Stendhal’s stay in Milan ended in deep emotional disappointment: Métilde Dembowski, the woman whose memory was to haunt him for the rest of his life, rejected him as a lover. His political friendships had meanwhile compromised him in the eyes of the Austrian occupying authorities, which finally led him to leave Milan in 1821.

From 1821 to 1830, Stendhal’s social and intellectual life in Paris was very active. He made a name for himself in the salons as a conversationalist and polemicist. His wit and unconventional views were much appreciated, and he had notable friendships and love affairs. In 1822 he published De l’amour (On Love), which claims to study the operations of love dispassionately and objectively, but which can be read as a hidden confession of Stendhal’s emotional experiences and longings. His Racine et Shakespeare (1823, 1825) was one of the first Romantic manifestos to appear in France. In it Stendhal developed the central idea that each historical period has been “romantic” in its own time, that Romanticism is a vital aspect of every cultural period. Stendhal’s literary production during this period was quite varied. In addition to his regular contributions to English journals, he published Vie de Rossini (1823; Life of Rossini); his first novel, Armance (1827); and the travel book Promenades dans Rome (1829). During this period he also wrote one of his two masterpieces, the novel Le Rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black), which appeared in 1830.

The year 1830, during which the July Revolution brought the constitutional monarch Louis-Philippe to the throne in France, marked a new turning point in Stendhal’s life. He was appointed French consul in the port of Civitavecchia in the Papal States. In this small town, where he felt bored and isolated, Stendhal was occupied by endless administrative chores and found it difficult to write in a sustained manner. He sought distractions in nearby Rome, absenting himself frequently from his official duties. Lonely, aware of age and of failing health, he felt increasingly drawn to autobiography and began Souvenirs d’égotisme (1892; Memoirs of an Egotist) and Vie de Henri Brulard (1890; The Life of Henri Brulard), as well as a new and largely autobiographical novel entitled Lucien Leuwen (1894). All these works remained uncompleted, though they were published posthumously, and are now considered among Stendhal’s finest writings.

During his consulate, Stendhal discovered in Rome unpublished accounts of crimes of passion and grim executions set in the Renaissance. They became the inspiration for stories he later published under the title of Chroniques italiennes (“Italian Chronicles”). But it was only in Paris, where he took up residence again during a prolonged leave (1836-1839), that Stendhal could undertake new major literary work. He composed Mémoires d’un touriste; his second masterpiece, the novel La Chartreuse de Parme (1839; The Charterhouse of Parma); and began work on a new novel, Lamiel (1889), which he did not live long enough to complete. He died in 1842 after suffering a stroke while again on leave in Paris.


Works
During Stendhal’s lifetime, his reputation was largely based on his books dealing with the arts and with tourism (a term he helped introduce in France), and on his political writings and conversational wit. His unconventional views, his hedonistic inclinations tempered by a capacity for moral and political indignation, his prankish nature and his hatred of boredom—all constituted for his contemporaries a blend of provocative contradictions. But the more authentic Stendhal is to be found elsewhere, and above all in a cluster of favourite ideas: the hostility to the concept of “ideal beauty,” the notion of modernity, and the exaltation of energy, passion, and spontaneity. His personal philosophy, to which he himself gave the name of “Beylisme” (after his real family name, Beyle) stressed the importance of the “pursuit of happiness” by combining enthusiasm with rational skepticism, lucidity with willful surrender to lyric emotions. “Beylisme,” as he understood it, meant cultivating a private sensibility while developing the art of hiding and protecting it.

It was in his novels above all, and in his autobiographical writings (the interchange between these two literary activities remains a constant feature in his case), that Stendhal’s thoughts are expressed most fully. But even these texts remain baffling. Their prosaic and ironic style at first glance hides the intensity of Stendhal’s vision and the profundity of his views.

Armance (1827) is a somewhat enigmatic novel in which the hero’s sexual impotence is symbolic of France’s conformist and oppressive society after the Restoration. The antagonism between the individual and society is the central subject of The Red and the Black. This realistic novel depicts the French social order under the Second Restoration (1815–30). The story centres on a carpenter’s son, Julien Sorel, a sensitive and intelligent but extremely ambitious youth who, after seeing no road to power in the military after Napoleon’s fall, endeavours to make his mark in the church. Viewing himself as an unsentimental opportunist, he employs seduction as a means to advancement, first with Madame de Rênal, whose children he is employed to tutor. After then spending some time in a seminary, he leaves the provinces and goes to Paris, where he seduces the aristocratic Mathilde, the daughter of his second employer. The book ends with Julien’s execution for the attempted murder of Madame de Rênal after she had jeopardized his projected marriage to Mathilde.

The title of The Red and the Black apparently refers to both the tensions in Julien’s character and to the conflicting choice he is faced with in his quest for success: the army (symbolized by the colour red) or the church (symbolized by the colour black). A variety of other polarities tempt the ambitious young hero as he sets out with fierce determination to rise above his lowly condition: the provinces or Paris, tender love or sexual conquest, happiness through ambition and achievement or happiness through reverie and the cultivation of selfhood. Careerism, political opportunism, the climate of fear and denunciation in Restoration France, a critique of bourgeois materialistic values—all these are dealt with in a subtle and incisive manner in a novel that is based on a newspaper account of a contemporary crime of passion. Julien Sorel, the central character, is a study in psychological complexity who both attracts and repels the reader. Timid and aggressive, sensitive and ruthless, vulnerable and supremely ambitious, Julien ultimately comes to realize, in prison, the vanity of worldly success and the superior value of love and a rich inner life. The Red and the Black also offers delicate portraits of two feminine figures, the maternal Madame de Renal and the romantic young aristocrat Mathilde de La Mole. At every point, the novel challenges conventions and denounces the sham of societal values. As a literary achievement, it is remarkable for its blend of comedy, satire, and ironic lyricism.

The uncompleted Lucien Leuwen (1894) is perhaps the most autobiographical of Stendhal’s novels. The memory of Métilde Dembowski hovers over the relationship between the young hero of the title and Madame de Chasteller. This biting fictional assessment of French society and politics during the reign of Louis-Philippe also describes a basic father-son conflict that corresponds to the conflicting ethos of two distinct historical periods. As it stands, despite its imperfections and uncompleted form, Lucien Leuwen contains some of Stendhal’s finest pages of psychological and social analysis, as well as delicate evocations of a young lover’s emotional states.

The Charterhouse of Parma is Stendhal’s other masterpiece. It fuses elements of Renaissance chronicles, fictional and historical sources, recent historical events (the Napoleonic regime in Italy, the Battle of Waterloo, the Austrian occupation of Milan), and an imaginative, almost dreamlike transposition of contemporary reality into fictional terms. The novel is set mainly in the court of Parma, Italy, in the early 19th century. Fabrice del Dongo, a young aristocrat and ardent admirer of Napoleon, goes to Paris to join the French army and is present at the Battle of Waterloo. He returns thereafter to Parma and enters the church for worldly advantage under the sponsorship of his aunt, the Duchess de Sanseverina, who is the mistress of the chief minister of Parma, Count Mosca. Following an affair with an actress, Fabrice kills a rival, is imprisoned, escapes, and is pardoned. In prison Fabrice falls in love with Clélia Conti, the daughter of the citadel’s governor. He continues his affair with her after she marries, and he becomes a high-ranking ecclesiastic and an admired preacher. The death of their child and then of Clélia herself causes Fabrice to retire to the Carthusian monastery, or charterhouse, of Parma, where he dies.

The incongruous yet always harmonious combination of lyricism and high comedy, of realism and dreamlike atmosphere, of The Charterhouse of Parma allows the author to caricaturize the petty tyranny of post-Napoleonic Europe, to question public morality, and to assert the prerogatives of love’s follies. There are subtly drawn portraits of the naive and idealistic young Fabrice del Dongo (notably at the Battle of Waterloo); of his courageous and passionate aunt, the Duchess de Sanseverina; of her lover, the benevolent Machiavellian statesman Count Mosca; and of the young and innocent Clélia Conti, the daughter of Fabrice’s jailer, who falls in love with the handsome prisoner. Passion in all its forms is the novel’s recurrent theme. And once again, the young hero learns the deeper lessons of spirituality, love, and freedom within the liberating confines of a prison cell.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of The Charterhouse of Parma is its highly sophisticated psychology. Rejecting traditional notions of a fixed and determined psychological makeup, Stendhal never defines his characters and instead depicts individuals in the process of becoming. His literary devices (his authorial comments, the improvisational tone of his narration) seem to grant his characters the freedom to discover themselves. Various forms of freedom are Stendhal’s ultimate preoccupation, which probably explains why he repeatedly explores the ambiguities of the prison image. True freedom, in the world of Stendhal, reveals itself in the context of the cell, once confinement becomes the symbol of the inner world of dreams and longings. His novels thus illustrate metaphorically the fundamental conflict between the demands of society and those of the individual.

Stendhal’s autobiographical writings, Souvenirs d’égotisme (1892; Memoirs of an Egotist) and Vie de Henri Brulard (1890; The Life of Henri Brulard), are among his most original achievements. Behind their vivacity and charming digressions, they reveal the uneasiness of a tender-hearted and fundamentally insecure human being wearing various masks. The Life of Henri Brulard in particular is a masterpiece of ironic self-searching and self-creation, in which the memories of childhood are closely interwoven with the liberating joy of writing.

Stendhal’s writings and his personality were marked by a striking independence of mind. He was a romantic who kept his distance from Romanticism, an antiauthoritarian with a nostalgia for the pre-Revolutionary world, a dreamer and tender-hearted enthusiast who passed himself off as a cynic. His writings combine lyrical fervour with a rationalist’s passion for analysis. Stendhal’s contemporaries, however, found it difficult to appreciate his nimble and ironic sensibility. The novelist Honoré de Balzac, in a famous article on The Charterhouse of Parma published in La Revue parisienne in 1840, was the only one to recognize his genius as a novelist. Stendhal’s literary fame came late in the 19th century, and this posthumous fame has steadily grown since then, largely because of the devotion of “Beylistes” or “Stendhalians” who have made of him a true cult. Stendhal has now come to be recognized as one of the great French masters of the novel in the 19th century.

Victor Brombert

 

 

The Charterhouse of Parma

Stendhal

1783-1842

Movement is the operative principle of this story, which shifts quickly between several countries and decades. Many readers have remarked upon the disconcerting rapidity of these transitions, bringing narrative enjoyment to the foreground, but also perplexing us as to the overall shape of the story.
The novel's sense of movement is achieved not by progression, but by a constantly managed undercutting, which extends to character, theme, and judgement. We are told at the outset that this is the story of the Duchess Sanseverina, but, at least initially, its hero appears to be her idealistic nephew, Fabrice. Yet his principled bravery is not allowed to stand either; arriving at Waterloo his expectation of the camaraderie of war is undermined when his compatriots steal his horse. In the parts of the novel where summaries of a period of years alternate with passages spanning only hours, limpidity of duration is matched by an eievation of perspective—these range from the bell tower of Fabrice's childhood church, to the Farnese Tower in which he is incarcerated at the heart of the story. With imprisonment as its central theme, Stendhal's extreme freedom with the narrative seems resonantly undermining. As theme defeats theme, and one aspect of narrative technique shows up the limitations of another, the novel operates according to its own exhilarating logic.

 

 

The Red and the Black

Stendhal

1783-1842

Set in France in the 1830s, Le Rouge et le Noir chronicles Julien Sorel's duplicitous rise to power and hissubsequentfall.The son of a carpenter.Julien seeks initially to realize his Napoleonic ambitions by joining the priesthood. Despite some torrid liaisons during his training, Julien succeeds in becoming a priest and eagerly accepts the invitation of the Marquis de la Mole to become his personal secretary. Even Julien's affair with the Marquis' daughter, Mathilde, is the occasion of his ennoblement so that he can marry her without scandal. Before Julien has an opportunity to enjoy his aristocratic life, however, the Marquis receives from Mme de Renal (another of Julien's conquests when he was training for the priesthood) a letter that exposes him as a fraud. Prevented from marrying Mathildejulien exacts revenge.
Sometimes perceived as a bit too melodramatic to appeal to modern literary taste. The Red and the Black is immensely important in terms of the development of the novel as an art form. On the one hand it is a tale very much in the Romantic tradition. Sorel may be unscrupulous and roguish in the pursuit of his ambitions, yet set against a petty and constraining bourgeois French society, his energy and sheer gumption often lure the reader into a reluctant rapport. It is in Stendhal's narrative style, however, that this novel has proved to be most influential. In largely being told from the vantage point of each character's state of mind, the novel's convincing psychological realism prompted Emile Zola to proclaim it the first truly "modern" novel. It is for this reason, apart from the fact that it is a rollicking good yarn, that The Red and the Black should be reserved a place on every serious reader's bookshelf.

 



 


THE RED AND THE BLACK
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle, 1783-1842)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: Early nineteenth century
Locale: France
First published: Le Rouge et le noir, 1830 (English translation, 1898)

 

In this novel whose chief character is a villain, Stendhal analyzes the psychological undercurrents of Julien Sorel's personality, showing how struggle and temptation shaped his energetic but morbidly introspective nature. The novel is considered Stendhal's greatest work, equally for its portrait ofSorel and its satire of French society during the Bourbon restoration.




 

Principal Characters

Julien Sorel (zhu-lyan' so-гёГ), a son of a lawyer but an opportunist whose brilliant intellect, great ambition, and self-pride elevate him for a time, only to defeat him in the end. The youthful protege of a local priest in the French town of Verieres, Julien becomes the beloved tutor of the mayor's children and the lover of that aristocratic official's wife. Brazen, hypocritical, but shrewd, this contradictory hero espouses Napoleonic sentiments yet believes that his own salvation is through the Church. Pushed by scandal into a seminary, he proudly stands aloof from its politics and manages to become a secretary to one of the first men in France. Though he is insensitive to all feelings, his intellect again raises him in esteem to the point where he seduces as well as is seduced by the nobleman's daughter, a lively, intellectual young woman. Playing both ends against the middle—the middle being a respected position and a respectable income—he brings about his own downfall through attempted murder of his first mistress after she has revealed his villainy to his noble benefactor.
Madame de Renal (da гё-паГ), Julien Sorel's first mistress and greatest love, a beautiful, compassionate, though bigoted woman. Although she vacillates always between religiosity and passion, she truly loves the ascetic-looking younger man and dies shortly after he has been executed for his attempt to kill her. Her allegiance to the tutor is the more remarkable because of her clever deceptions, necessary to prevent an immediate tragedy brought about by her husband's vindictiveness. In the end religiosity predominates; she is torn by anguish, remorse, and guilt and dies while embracing her children three days after the death of her lover.
Monsieur de Renal (тэ-syoe' da гб-паГ), the miserly mayor and village aristocrat, who desperately seeks status by hiring a tutor for his children. Vulgar and greedy to an extreme, this boorish landowner is elevated by the Marquis de La Mole, who later became Julien's employer. He loses his wife to a commoner's love and his position to his republican enemy.
Mathilde de La Mole (ma-teld' da la тбГ), a proud, intelligent aristocrat destined to become a duchess but fated to love out of her class. Desirous of the unexpected and bored with the conventionality of her life, she at first seeks distraction in lovemaking with Julien Sorel. When he pretends boredom, she pursues him shamelessly. Her pregnancy sets off a chain of tragic events which will leave her unborn child without name or father. After Julien's execution her romantic nature causes her to initiate the deed of a famous ancestress; she buries her lover's head and decorates his cave tomb with marble so that it resembles a shrine.
The Marquis de La Mole (da la тбГ), a peer of France and the wealthiest landowner in the province. He is a subtle, learned aristocrat who through caprice gambles on a young man's genius, through kindness makes a gentleman of him, and through pride in family negotiates his downfall. Although he admires his brilliant secretary, the marquis can never rid himself of his social ambitions for his beautiful and intelligent daughter, and to bring about Julien Sorel's downfall he conspires to gain incriminating evidence against the young man.
The Marquise de La Mole, an aristocrat proud of her noble ancestors.
The Comte de La Mole, their son, a pleasant young man conditioned to fashionable Parisian life, in which ideas are neither encouraged nor discussed.
Fouque (foo-ka'), a bourgeois but devoted friend of Julien Sorel. Acting as ballast for his mercurial friend, he offers Julien a good position in his lumber business, financial support for his studies, and finally his whole fortune to free him after his arrest.
The Abbe Chelan (shalan'), the local parish priest, who teaches and advances the fortune of Julien Sorel. The first to discover the tragic duality of protege's nature, he nevertheless supports him in his ambitions and grieves over his misadventures.
The Abbe Pirard (pe-rar'), the director of the seminary at Besancon, where Julien Sorel studies. He obtains for his brilliant pupil the post of secretary to the Marquis de La Mole. An irascible Jansenist among Jesuits, this learned priest sees in Sorel genius and contradiction. In spite of these contradictions, Pirard helps to elevate the youth to the munificence of courtly Paris. Monsieur Valenod (va-lg-no'), a provincial official grown prosperous on graft. Jealous because Monsieur de Renal has hired a tutor for his children and because his own advances to Madame de Renal have been unsuccessful, he writes an anonymous letter that reveals the love affair between Julien Sorel and his employer's wife.




 

The Story

Julien Sorel was the son of a carpenter in the little town of Verrieres, France. Napoleon had fallen, but he still had many admirers, and Julien was one of these. Julien pretended to be deeply religious. Now that Napoleon had been defeated, he believed that the church rather than the army was the way to power. Because of his assumed piety and his intelligence, Julien was appointed as tutor to the children of Monsieur de Renal, the mayor of the village.
Madame de Renal had done her duty all of her life. Although she was a good wife and a good mother, she had never been in love with her husband, a coarse man who would hardly inspire love in any woman. Madame de Renal was attracted to the pale young tutor and fell completely in love with him. Julien, thinking it his duty to himself, made love to her in order to gain power over her. He discovered after a time that he had really fallen in love with Madame de Renal.
When Julien went on a holiday to visit Fouque, a poor friend, Fouque tried to persuade Julien to go into the lumber business with him. Julien declined; he enjoyed too much the power he held over his mistress.
The love affair was revealed to Monsieur de Renal by an anonymous letter written by Monsieur Valenod, the local official in charge of the poorhouse. He had become rich on graft, and he was jealous because Monsieur de Renal had hired Julien as a tutor. He had also made unsuccessful advances to Madame de Renal at one time.
The lovers were able to smooth over the situation to some extent. Monsieur de Renal agreed to send Julien to the seminary at Besanijon, principally to keep him from becoming tutor at Monsieur Valenod's house. After Julien had departed, Madame de Renal was filled with remorse. Her conscience suffered because of her adultery, and she became extremely religious.
Julien did not get on well at the seminary, for he found it full of hypocrites. The students did not like him and feared his sharp intelligence. His only friend was the Abbe Pirard, a highly moral man.
One day Julien went to help decorate the cathedral and by chance found Madame de Renal there. She fainted, but he could not help her because his duties called him elsewhere. The experience left him weak and shaken.
The Abbe Pirard lost his position at the seminary because he had supported the Marquis de La Mole, who was engaged in a lawsuit against Monsieur de Frilair, Vicar General of Besanjon. When the Abbe Pirard left the seminary, the marquis obtained a living for him in Paris. He also hired Julien as his secretary.
Julien was thankful for his chance to leave the seminary. On his way to Paris he called secretly upon Madame de Renal. At first she repulsed his advances, conscious of her great sin. At last, however, she yielded once again to his pleadings. Monsieur de Renal became suspicious and decided to search his wife's room. To escape discovery, Julien jumped out the window, barely escaping with his life.
Finding Julien a good worker, the marquis entrusted him with many of the details of his business. Julien was also allowed to dine with the family and to mingle with the guests afterward. He found the Marquise de La Mole to be extremely proud of her nobility. Her daughter, Mathilde, seemed to be of the same type, a reserved girl with beautiful eyes. Her son, the Comte de La Mole, was an extremely polite and pleasant young man. Julien, however, found Parisian high society boring. No one was allowed to discuss ideas.
Julien enjoyed stealing volumes of Voltaire from the marquis' library and reading them in his room. He was astonished when he discovered that Mathilde was doing the same thing. Before long, they began to spend much of their time together, although Julien was always conscious of his position as servant and was quick to be insulted by Mathilde's pride. The girl fell in love with him because he was so different from the dull young men of her own class.
After Julien had spent two nights with her, Mathilde decided that it was degrading to be in love with a secretary. Her pride was an insult to Julien. Smarting, he planned to gain power over her and, consequently, over the household.
Meanwhile the marquis had entrusted Julien with a diplomatic mission on behalf of the nobility and clergy who wanted the monarchy reestablished. On his mission Julien met an old friend who advised him how to win Mathilde again. Upon his return he put his friend's plan into effect.
He began to pay court to a virtuous lady who was often a visitor in the de La Mole home. He began a correspondence with her, at the same time neglecting Mathilde. Then Mathilde, thinking that Julien was lost to her, discovered how much she loved him. She threw herself at his feet. Julien had won; but this time he would not let her gain the upper hand. He continued to treat Ma-thilde coldly as her passion increased. In this way he maintained his power.
Mathilde became pregnant. She was joyful, for now, she thought, Julien would know how much she cared for him. She had made the supreme sacrifice; she would now have to marry Julien and give up her place in society. Julien, however, was not so happy as Mathilde over her condition, for he feared the results when Mathilde told her father.
At first the marquis was furious. Eventually, he saw only one way out of the difficulty; he would make Julien rich and respectable. He gave Julien a fortune, a title, and a commission in the army. Overwhelmed with his new wealth and power, Julien scarcely gave a thought to Mathilde.
Then the marquis received a letter from Madame de Renal, whom Julien had suggested to the marquis for a character recommendation. Madame de Renal was again filled with religious fervor; she revealed to the marquis the whole story of Julien's villainy. The marquis immediately refused to let Julien marry his daughter.
Julien's plans for glory and power were ruined. In a fit of rage he rode to Verrieres, where he found Madame de Renal at church. He fired two shots at her before he was arrested and taken off to prison. There he promptly admitted his guilt, for he was ready to die. He had his revenge.
Mathilde, still madly in love with Julien, arrived in Verrieres and tried to bribe the jury. Fouque arrived and begged Julien to try to escape, but Julien ignored the efforts of his friends to help.
He was tried, found guilty, and given the death sentence, even though his bullets had not killed Madame de Renal. In fact, his action had only rekindled her passion for him. She visited him and begged him to appeal his sentence. The two were as much in love as they had been before. When Monsieur de Renal ordered his wife to come home, Julien was left again to his dreams. He had lost his one great love—Madame de Renal. The colorless Mathilde only bored and angered him by her continued solicitude.
Julien went calmly to his death on the appointed day. The faithful Fouque obtained the body in order to bury it in a cave in the mountains, where Julien had once been fond of going to indulge in his daydreams of power.
According to a family legend a woman had once loved a famous ancestor of Mathilde's with an extreme passion. When the ancestor was executed, the woman had taken his severed head and buried it. Mathilde, who had always admired this family legend, did the same for Julien. After the funeral ceremony at the cave, she dug a grave with her own hands and buried Julien's head. Later, she had the cave decorated with Italian marble.
Madame de Renal did not go to the funeral; but three days after Julien's death, she died while embracing her children.




 

Critical Evaluation

Stendhal's The Red and the Black is one of the most polished and refined stories in the literary crown of European literature. Stendhal took the French novel from the hands of Romantic writers such as Chateaubriand and honed it into a rapier of social criticism and philosophical exposition. It is the content of Stendhal's novels that marks him as a harbinger, one who influenced a century of Continental literary epigones. He was the first French writer to battle with the social and philosophical implications inherent in the modern creed known as liberalism. Because liberalism was the prevailing doctrine of the emergent French middle class, and because Stendhal sought to assess the social attitudes of that class, he must be considered as the first significant bourgeois novelist. The Red and the Black amalgamates the best of Stendhal's abilities as refiner and innovator.
Like each of Stendhal's novels The Red and the Black is autobiographical. Published in 1830, the work reflects the author's ideas rather than the outer events of his life. Thus to appreciate fully the novel, it is necessary to know the background of Stendhal's life and the broad social developments which determined the writer's complex and often contradictory Weltanschauung.
Stendhal was born into a provincial bourgeois family in Grenoble. His family background was a mixture of contradictions. The father was a businessman of the middle class whose aggressive, pragmatic, Philistine habits the son professed to loathe. His mother's aristocratic family, however, attracted him. To Stendhal, the family appeared to live a balanced, harmonious life with its social as well as cultural influences. It was a world of social hierarchy where all classes knew their place. Yet despite his preference for the world of the provincial aristocrat, Stendhal followed a life which was markedly bourgeois in orientation and philosophy. He implicitly accepted the liberal ideas articulated in the French Revolution and became an avid supporter of Napoleon, the personification of French liberalism. Napoleon championed the notion of a French civil service staffed by men of talent rather than of high birth as had been the case in the pre-Napoleonic world. The writer launched his career within Napoleon's regime. He marched through Europe within Napoleon's armies and was present in the retreat from Moscow. Following Napoleon's defeat, Stendhal exiled himself to Milan, Italy. He returned to Paris in 1821 and compromised his values to the ultraconservalive political climate then existing in France. It was not a difficult compromise since the official values espoused in Paris were similar to those expressed by the maternal side of Stendhal's family. Stendhal's life in France between 1821 and 1830 was similar to that of the hero of The Red and the Black, Julien Sorel. He carried the social and intellectual baggage appropriate for survival in the intricate Parisian world.
Liberalism was the intellectual cloak of the French Revolution and Napoleon the child of the revolution. In Stendhal's France, the most important arrow in a liberal's quiver was his belief in self-determination. The liberal felt that man was basically reasonable and hence perfectible; he believed that man needed a society where talent could freely rise to its highest level of accomplishment and find expression in whatever political, economic, or intellectual manner deemed appropriate by the individual. This creed naturally appealed to those segments of French society which had been prevented by aristocratic privilege from assuming worthwhile positions in the French civil service. Stendhal aimed to make his mark in France by ascribing to this philosophy. Yet, however much Stendhal might have believed in French liberalism, or thought he believed in it, he was still troubled—aristocrat that he partly was—by the lack of hierarchy in the liberal vision of society. Indeed, Julien's love affairs for Madame de Renal, the wife of the provincial bourgeois mayor, and Mathilde de La Mole, the daughter of a French aristocrat, are symbolic of his own intellectual "affairs" with modern bourgeois liberalism and traditional aristocratic conservatism.
Was it possible to fuse such disparate social attitudes? Where were the limits on a person's right to individual self-determination? What were the social implications of such a philosophy? In an attempt to answer these questions, Stendhal wrote The Red and the Black. Stendhal's own confusion about his social values does not detract from the impact of his novel; in fact, it only enhances its historical value, for French society suffered from the same confusion. Thus, The Red and the Black is both a personal testament and a social document, a creative fusion of diverse and even contradictory elements into an artistic unity.

 

 
     
         
 

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