Thursday, October 05, 2006

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.


Anonymous Diana said...

Ok, I'm in. I'll do better than I did for W & P, promise (although if I even crack the spine of the book I'll have satisfied that oath).

I don't know if I'm crazy enough to buy the French version, too, but here's a link to an etext in French:

Le rouge et le noir

2:09 AM  
Blogger amcorrea said...

(The girl in the back tentatively raises her hand...)

Can I join in? Since I have no access to it, I'll be reading it online...or if I find a Spanish copy, I may try that as well.

This is exciting! I've never read Stendhal before.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous rachel said...

Well, I was on the fence, but then I got out my old copy and read the introduction, and... well... here's the first sentence:

"To begin with, that was not his name, Stendhal being merely the most publicly acknowledged of the 171 pseudonyms he used for purposes of largely unnecessary deception."

Hah. And now I have to read it. Curses!

5:33 PM  
Blogger © 2003-2007 M-mv said...

I expressed my interest over at M.O., too. Will you count me in?


2:29 PM  
Blogger Isabella said...

amcorrea, m-mv: Am very happy to have both of you aboard. Will be emailing you with more details shortly.

Diana: You know I'm a firm believer in there being a right time and place for a book, so don't be forcing yourself. You had recently mentioned, I think, attempting a French read — this may be just the thing. I must say, I have a really good feeling about this book.

Rachel: The man's autobiography is title The Life of Henry Brulard. The more I read about him, the more he sounds like a smartass (a good thing, in my book). You should appreciate this: most of the epigrams at chapter starts, attributed to great thinkers/writers, are FAKE. Eliot made up hers for Middlemarch chapters, but she didn't have the gall to sign someone else's name to them.

9:58 PM  
Blogger sfp said...

I'm in, Isabella.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Melanie said...

I would love to join in!

8:11 PM  
Blogger LZ Blogger said...

If you aren't careful, you can learn something NEW every day! ~ jb///

3:04 PM  
Blogger Mailyn said...

One of my favorite books! Are you reading it now?

8:47 PM  

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