Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle): The Red and the Black
(Le Rouge et le Noir)
A Chronicle of the Nineteenth Century (1831)
Another favourite of mine.
Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff (1925)
“Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and the Black) is a novel by Stendhal, published in 1830. The title has been translated into English variously as Scarlet and Black, Red and Black, and The Red and the Black. It is set in France circa 1827-30, and relates a young man's attempts to rise above his plebeian birth through a combination of talent, hard work, deception and hypocrisy, only to find himself betrayed by his own passions.
Like Stendhal's later novel The Charterhouse of Parma (La Chartreuse de Parme), Le Rouge et le Noir is a Bildungsroman. The protagonist, Julien Sorel, is a driven and intelligent man, but equally fails to understand much about the ways of the world he sets out to conquer. He harbours many romantic illusions, and becomes little more than a pawn in the political machinations of the influential and ruthless people who surround him. Stendhal uses his flawed hero to satirize French society of the time, particularly the hypocrisy and materialism of its aristocracy and the Roman Catholic Church, and to foretell a radical change in French society that will remove both of those forces from their positions of power.
The most common and most likely explanation of the title is that red and black are the contrasting colors of the army uniform of the times and of the robes of priests, respectively. Julien Sorel observes early on in the novel that, under the Bourbon restoration it is impossible for a man of his class to distinguish himself in the army (as he might have done under Napoleon); now, only a career in the Church offers social advancement and glory. Alternative explanations are possible, however: for example, red might stand for love and black for death and mourning; or the colours might refer to those of a roulette wheel, and may indicate the unexpected changes in the hero's career.”
I’m slightly dubious about the explanation that the Red and the black is the soldier’s tunic and the priest’s cassock. I thought that the French army wore blue.
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