Introducing Stendhal's The Red and the Black
A novel is a mirror that strolls along a highway. Now it reflects the blue of the skies, now the mud puddles underfoot. [The Red and the Black, ch 49]
According to The Modern Library:
The Red and the Black, Stendhal’s masterpiece, is the story of Julien Sorel, a young dreamer from the provinces, fueled by Napoleonic ideals, whose desire to make his fortune sets in motion events both mesmerizing and tragic. Sorel’s quest to find himself, and the doomed love he encounters along the way, are delineated with an unprecedented psychological depth and realism. At the same time, Stendhal weaves together the social life and fraught political intrigues of post–Napoleonic France, bringing that world to unforgettable, full-color life. His portrait of Julien and early-nineteenth-century France remains an unsurpassed creation, one that brilliantly anticipates modern literature.
Published in 1830, the novel's events span the years 1827-1829. Both Middlemarch and War and Peace are historical novels, written many decades after the events they describe. I'm curious how Stendhal then will present "history" — I expect a sense of immediacy, without the benefit of hindsight nor the filters of historians.
Coincidentally (or this may account in part for why I'm drawn to this book), it covers post-Napoleonic France, picking up not long after where War and Peace left off and occurring just a few years before the political reforms and other goings on discussed in Middlemarch.
Politics in a literary work, is like a gun shot in the middle of a concert, something vulgar, and however, something which is impossible to ignore. [The Charterhouse of Parma, ch 23]
Tolstoy was enormously influenced by Stendhal.
The Russians imitate French ways, but always at a distance of fifty years. [The Red and the Black, ch 54]
According to Wikipedia, "André Gide felt that The Red and the Black was a novel far ahead of its time, and called it a novel for readers in the 20th century."
"We should never be finished with Stendhal," said Paul Valéry. "I can think of no greater praise than that."
In The Red and the Black Czeslaw Milosz "perceives the "legend of the will": that a lone individual can apprehend the complexity of society as hypocrisy and assert his authenticity by rebelling against it."
In our calling, we have to choose; we must make our fortune either in this world or in the next, there is no middle way. [The Red and the Black, ch 8]
Excerpt (translated by Burton Raffel).
One review favourable, another not so much.
Etext (translated by CK Scott-Moncrieff).
Etext (translated by Charles Tergie).
I've been rather enthusiastic for some months now regarding the prospect of reading this book, and even promised myself I'd try reading it in French. Don't worry: in addition to having a great number of dictionaries at my disposal, as well as a resident French speaker (everyone should have one), I have on hand Burton Raffel's English translation of the novel for reference.
Register your interest in reading along in the comments or by email. (If you've previously emailed me regarding joining in on the next book, I'll be in touch with you shortly.) Any suggestions on how to tackle this masterpiece, all comments, and any resources are welcome.
I'll be posting a schedule in the next week or so. I'd like discussion to open in the first bit of November. The schedule will take into account my late-November vacation, as well as Christmas preparations and festivities. Reading will go into the new year.
A novel is like a bow, and the violin that produces the sound is the reader's soul.