Monday, November 06, 2006

Some preliminaries

I've had neither much time to search out any interesting or relevant background material nor luck in finding anything that goes beyond the introductory notes to most editions and which doesn't include spoilers.

The main events of The Red and the Black are based on a real-life incident, but to share any details of it seems to give away the book's ending. Warning: the introduction to the Raffel translation contains spoilers, as does the biographical note.

To warm up to a discussion about the book proper, maybe we could talk a bit about reading the book...

What translation are you reading?
Have you read the introduction?

Why are you reading TR&TB? Have you read it before?

Diane Johnson in her introduction to the Raffel translation notes that "An American reader is most likely to have encountered The Red and the Black at about the age of its protagonists, Julien Sorel and Mathilde de la Mole, who are eighteen or nineteen when we meet them. [...] As with many novels, to take it up again at an older age is to experience a different book." Stendhal saw it published when he was 47. I feel a peculiar pleasure in being of an age somewhere between Stendhal's and that of the other, older (about thirty) protagonist, as if I'm well-poised to get it.

Do you have a reading plan, or method? I've noted elsewhere that I'm having a hard time pacing myself, not reading ahead, but I'm trying to set aside blocks of time as well as trying to read in French.

Most important: are you liking it so far?

I'll be posting a couple more specific thoughts later in the day (1. my impressions of the town; 2. how Julien reminds me of Pierre in War and Peace).


Anonymous Big dumb Rachel said...

I'm reading my old college edition, translated by Lowell Bair.

I know I read it in college. The book has underlinings and scribblings to prove it. But I remember NOTHING of it, and what little I thought I remembered turns out to be from Flaubert's "Sentimental Education", which I think I read for the same class.

The older I get, the more obvious it becomes to me that education is wasted on the young. At least it was on me. It broke over my thick skull like waves against rock.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Isabella said...

The more it goes, the more I'm glad I DIDN'T get round to reading some classics when I was younger.

I find it really disconcerting actually, that I misremember things in the way that I do. With books I retain certain impressions, of characters maybe, or overall, but not much more. And those things depend very much on what you consider important there and then.

It's a no-brainer that books change when you reread them, rather you change — the benefit of experience and maturity. But from what I infer from Johnson's comments, the time of life will also affect whom you identify with, sympathize with, root for. I hadn't really thought of it in such straightforward terms before.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

I'm trying to stay on topic here, but what you said, Isabella, reminded me that recently I was raving to a customer about why I had liked Saturday so much. I said something about my favorite books being the ones where not much happens beyond the main character's thinking a lot and she stared at me blankly. "I thought there was a lot of action in Saturday," she said. And then I suddenly remembered the entire last third of the book in which, of course, a LOT happens. But what had remained in my mind and heart was the opening scene where he's staring out the window, thinking, and then starts his Saturday, quietly and with rumination. So I guess it's true that we remember what we want to remember, and classify books the way we want to.

OK, now back to TRATB. I'm reading the Raffel translation, as well as the French version. I am wimpily reading the English chapters first and then following up with the French. My French is just too rusty to do otherwise.

(And you'd think a French Lit major would have read it, but I didn't. No memories as to whether I was supposed to have or not.)

5:27 PM  
Blogger Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

Shamefully I am already behind, despite my best laid plans. I printed out the Scott Moncrieff e-book translation and divided each chapter with sticky notes (purple for part one and green for part two). Unfortunately after I read chapter one and didn't really enjoy it...I lost some steam. I hope to be back on track soon though and I found your entries, Isabella, very helpful and enjoyable.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Heather, I didn't like the first chapter, either. It picks up a bit when we meet young Julien and then when he meets Mme de Renal it really gains momentum! Bon courage...

8:27 PM  
Blogger © 2003-2007 M-mv said...

I'm reading the edition you recommended -- The Modern Library Classics ed. As for the intro, I tend to avoid 'em until I have a bit of the book under my belt. (Cliche alert; sorry. Tired beyound measure.) I'm a chapter behind but will be prepared later in the week.

8:40 PM  

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