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The Red And The Black
by Stendhal, Trans. By C. K. Scott-moncrieff
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Handsome and ambitious, Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his humble peasant origins and make something of his life-by adopting the code of hypocrisy by which his society operates. Julien ultimately commits a crime-out of passion, principle, or insanity-that will bring about his downfall. The Red and the Black is a lively, satirical picture of French Restoration society after Waterloo, riddled with corruption, greed, and ennui. The complex, sympathetic portrayal of Julien, the cold exploiter whose Machiavellian campaign is undercut by his own emotions, makes him Stendhal's most brilliant and human creation-and one of the greatest characters in European literature.
Translated with an introduction by Roger Gard.
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French
The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Novel by Stendhal, published in French in 1830 as Le Rouge et le noir. Set in France during the Second Restoration (1815-30), the novel is a powerful character study of Julien Sorel, an ambitious young man who uses seduction as a tool for advancement. The Red and the Black is generally considered the author's major work and one of the greatest 19th-century novels. Sorel is a sensitive and intelligent youth who, seeing no road to advancement in the military after Napoleon's fall, endeavors to make his mark in the church. Viewing himself as an unsentimental opportunist, he sets out to win the affections of Mme de Renal, whose children he is employed to tutor. After spending time in a seminary, he goes to Paris, where he seduces the aristocratic Mathilde, the daughter of his second employer. The book ends with Sorel's execution for the attempted murder of Mme de Renal after she had jeopardized his projected marriage to Mathilde. The title apparently refers to both the tensions in Sorel's character and to the conflicting choice he is faced with in his quest for success: the army (symbolized by the color red) or the church (symbolized by the color black). Incisively and with subtlety, the novel examines careerism, political opportunism, the climate of fear and denunciation in Restoration France, and bourgeois materialistic values.
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About the Author
Stendhal, born Henri Marie Beyle (1783-1842), had a post in the Ministry of War and followed Napoleon's campaigns before retiring to Italy. As "Stendhal," he began writing on art, music, and travel. He later wrote novels, literary criticism, and various biographical and autobiographical works.
Roger Gard was a reader in English at Queen Mary and Westfield College. He died in 2000.
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