Thursday 11 June 2020

Stendhal "Le Rouge et le Noir"

Stendhal "The Read and the Black" (French: Le Rouge et le Noir) - 1830

I had meant to read this novel for ages. Then I found it on one of those book swapping shelves I like to visit.

Now, the last couple of months, I didn't take part in the classics spin because I was already reading a few enormous ones. And this time, I almost missed it. I hadn't seen the post when the result was announced (#6), so I just used my old list and it was this novel. Two birds with one stone, I'd say.

The author, Henri-Marie Beyle, took the pseudonym Stendhal after the German city Stendal near Braunschweig where he used to live for a while.

Of course, I'm not as used to reading French books as I am reading German or English ones, so it took me a little longer to finish it.

Whilst I couldn't warm to any of the characters in the story, the idea behind it is great. It explains France at the time of the Napoleonic wars and after. The changes in society. The red stands for politics, the world, the soldiers, the black for the opposite, religion, forsaking the world, priests). The juxtaposition of these and the ordinary life beside it is probably what made this book a classic.

Julien Sorel, the protagonist, is too clever for his own good. He grew up at a time where you just weren't smart if you didn't have parents who could place you somewhere your intelligence was needed. That was probably his biggest problem. He wanted to be a soldier but it was too late for him to join Napoleon and his troops. His decision to become a priest didn't really agree with his view of the world, either. Well, these situations still exist and it is always difficult to rise from the kind of society you were born into. For women probably even more than for men. But here we go. We see a guy who tries.

If you are much interested in classics and would like to learn about this era, I can wholly recommend this book.

From the back cover:

"Handsome, ambitious Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his humble provincial origins. Soon realizing that success can only be achieved by adopting the subtle code of hypocrisy by which society operates, he begins to achieve advancement through deceit and self-interest. His triumphant career takes him into the heart of glamorous Parisian society, along the way conquering the gentle, married Madame de Rênal, and the haughty Mathilde. But then Julien commits an unexpected, devastating crime - and brings about his own downfall. The Red and the Black is a lively, satirical portrayal of French society after Waterloo, riddled with corruption, greed, and ennui, and Julien - the cold exploiter whose Machiavellian campaign is undercut by his own emotions - is one of the most intriguing characters in European literature."

Here are all the books on my original Classics Club list.
And here is a list of all the books I read with the Classics Spin.


  1. I read this for a reading group many years ago. I was dreading it but was surprised to find it readable and even a page turner at times.

    1. I'm not surprised. I'm usually quite reluctant to read a French book, not because of the language but the content. They can be pretty ... mmmmh ... unusual. I was more than glad this one wasn't.

      Thanks for your visit.

  2. I used to be a huge fan of Stendahl's when I was in school, I read all his novels ! I'm glad you loved this one, I'll probably read it again sometime this year or the next to see if he's still a favourite :)

    1. That will be fun, I'm sure. Looking forward to seeing what you will say.

      This is just the right kind of novel for me. Thanks for your comment, Iza.