Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: The Red and the Black

I read Stendahl's The Red and the Black as part of the fifty classics project.  This was published in 1830. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I didn't realize it would be so sensational.  Sex! Seductions!  A beheading!  If Stendahl had been English it probably would never have been published, but he was French.

Julien Sorel is the son of a carpenter in a provincial French town.  He has a reputation for being bookish and is hired by the mayor to be a tutor for his children.  Julien is 19 years old and gorgeous. The mayor's wife is young and pretty her husband is a big old bore.  She and Julien are in bed together before you can say, "You know, it might not be such a great idea to seduce your boss's wife."  The affair ends, predictably, and there's a boring bit in a seminary, because Julien is going to be a priest. (WHY?)  Never mind, he leaves the seminary to be a secretary to one Marquis de la Mole, in Paris.  He's the provincial boy in Paris, but quickly learns the ropes and seduces the Marquis' daughter.  And so the story proceeds to its tragic end.

What's interesting are the manipulations Julien and his lovers put themselves through in order to gain control of each other.  Does Julien love these women?  Sometimes it seems he does, but his actions show a desire to dominate.  If you want to take on the new year with a classic, this might be a good choice.

There does seem to be something lost in translation, or maybe my library's copy is not a good one.  There's a lot of cliched language ("His joy knew no bounds") which I assume is a consequence of translation.


  1. I admire your dedication to translated classics. My joy knew some bounds when I saw the movie without reading the book. This is an embarrassing habit. I've got "Bel Ami" all queued up for the same desultory treatment.

  2. I'd have been surprised to read a book that old with so much s-e-x! But, the French. You know.

  3. Who knew that training for the priesthood could be such fun?

  4. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never heard of this book! You'd think with all of the S-E-X that it would be more well-known. Thanks for the review - I'll add it to my list!