Thursday, January 25, 2007


Did you like it?

To borrow a question from The Modern Library Reading Guide: Why did the twentieth century see an enormous rise in Stendhal’s literary reputation and influence?

What do you interpret "the red" and "the black" as symbolizing?

Nessie has just posted a review of the book that touches on some major points but without going into too much detail.

The question that lingers with me is what were these characters' motivations — it starts with boredom, a let's-see-what-happens, but later? Do you think, in the end, Mme de Renal and Mathilde really love Julien — I mean REALLY love him? How sincere, or genuine, are Julien's words and actions? Has he achieved any kind of love or heroism?

Mathilde early on had said: "Nothing can so distinguish a man as a death sentence. It's the only thing one can't buy."


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Is this thing on?

I admit it: I fell behind, got distracted. But I'm back on schedule, slightly ahead even, and planning to finish in the next couple days.

I'd wanted to pick up on Rachel's comment that "Mme de Renal's handling of her husband was comical and ingenious and WAY cleverer than she should have been capable of." I completely agree! But where does the cleverness come from? Not books. It's something that arises from the force and purity of her love?

I'm thoroughly enjoying how Stendhal presents Paris society, the petty power games, the wars of words, how people fall in and out of favour (I'm reminded of the movie Ridicule — did anyone see it?).

(Mathilde is worshipful of Rousseau, while Julien calls Rousseau a fool and, essentially, a hypocrite (B2,ch8,p273). What's that all about?)

"We no longer have genuine passions, in the nineteenth century. That's why there's so much boredom, here in France. We do the most incredibly cruel things but without cruelty."

I did fall back on the Spark Notes, to make sure I wasn't missing anything. They did reinforce the sense that all actions are taken not for themselves but for their approval (eg, Julien considers Mathilde only after the respected academician sings her praises). Also, they did help make clear Julien's method, that all his actions are conceived as a military strategy (only without having much understanding of strategy), his whole life is a battle, and in this "small" way he continues to try to emulate his hero, Napoleon. ("It's clear that Julien had no experience of life; he had not even read novels.")

Mathilde, on the other hand, had read quite a lot, and things she shouldn't. Most descriptions of passion she dismisses as frivolous love. But she sees herself as Marguerite de Valois.

These two lovers are so intent on conforming to their respective models, they're lacking for genuine passion. All their knowledge and ideas and ambitions seem bound to end in disappointment, and they keep upping the stakes to keep it exciting.

Mme de Renal certainly does look better when cast against the light of Paris. Julien often compares them, and Mme shines superiorly. And I wonder — is it because of her naivete, the convent-upbringing, the living in the provinces, that makes her seem a better — purer — person? Is it my age, that I sympathize with her, that I feel critical of the young adults, careless, fickle, without the strength of character they purport to admire?

Is anyone still reading? Where are you?