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The Red and the Black: Book Review, Summary & Analysis

Dive into 'The Red and the Black' with our comprehensive review, summary, and analysis. Uncover the nuances of this classic tale in a concise guide.
Welcome to an insightful journey through the world of 'The Red and the Black - Review, Summary, & Analysis,' written by Muhiuddin Alam on the book recommendations and reviews site, ReadingAndThinking.com.
Over the years as a leading authority on literary expertise, I've created numerous book reviews, many of which can be found on this site. I'm also a regular contributor to other websites and publications.

I have received many requests to review the book 'The Red and the Black' which was written by Stendhal'. In response, I'm pleased to offer my expert Reviews, Summary, and Analysis in this article.

So, when I suggest this book, it's because I've read a lot and want to share the best ones with you. I'm all about making your reading experience awesome. Trust in a guide deeply immersed in the literary books and stories. I love books just like you do! 


Charting the rise and fall of an ambitious young social climber in a cruel, monarchical society, Stendhal's "The Red and the Black" is translated with an introduction and notes by Roger Gard in "Penguin Classics". 

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 Renal, and the haughty Mathilde. But then Julien commits an unexpected, devastating crime and brings about his own downfall. 

The Red and the Black by Stendhal
"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. 

Roger Gard's fine translation remains faithful to the natural, conversational tone of the original, while his introduction elucidates the complexities of Julien's character. 

This edition also contains a chronology, further reading, and an appendix on Stendhal's use of epigraphs. Stendhal (1783-1842) was the pseudonym of Henri Marie Beyle , born and raised in Grenoble. 

Offered a post in the Ministry of War, from 1800 onwards he followed Napoleon's campaigns throughout Europe before retiring to Italy. 

Here, as Stendhal, he began writing on art, music, and travel. Though not well-received during his lifetime, his work, including "The Red and the Black" (1830) and "The Charterhouse of Parma" (1839), now places him among the pioneers of nineteenth-century literary realism. 

If you enjoyed "The Red and the Black", you may like Guy de Maupassant's "Bel-Ami", also available in "Penguin Classics". 

Book: The Red and the Black

Le Rouge et le Noir is a historical psychological novel in two volumes by Stendhal, published in 1830. It chronicles the attempts of a provincial young man to rise socially beyond his modest upbringing through a combination of talent, hard work, deception, and hypocrisy. Wikipedia
    • Originally published: November 1830
    • Author: Stendhal
    • Genres: Novel, Bildungsroman, Psychological Fiction
    • Pages: 2 vols
    • Language: French
    • Publisher: Penguin Classics 
    • Translator: Roger Gard 
    • Publication Year: 2002-9-24 
    • Pages: 607 
    • Binding: Paperback 
    • Series: Penguin Classics 

The Red and the Black by Stendhal

About the Author: Stendhal

Stendhal (1783-1842) was an outstanding French author of critical realism in the nineteenth century. His life is not long, less than sixty years, and he started very late in literature, only beginning to publish works in his thirties. 

However, he has left a huge spiritual legacy to mankind, including several long articles, dozens of short articles or stories, millions of words of literary theory, essays and prose, and travel notes. 

He is known for his accurate character psychoanalysis and concise brushwork. He is considered to be one of the most important and earliest practitioners of realism. The most famous works are "The Red and the Black" (1830) and "Bama Monastery" (1839).

Excerpt from the original text

This is the misfortune caused by excessive civilization! As long as a twenty-year-old young man has received some education, his soul will be thousands of miles away from being natural, and if not being natural, love is often just one of the most annoying duties.——Quoted from Chapter: Chapter 13
The young man is eighteen or nine years old, and his appearance is rather weak. The facial features are not correct, but very delicate; the nose is very pointed; the eyes are big and dark, and when they are quiet, they are thoughtful and enthusiastic, but at this moment they have a deep resentment. Dark chestnut hair, the hairline is very low, so the forehead is not high, and when angry, it looks vicious. Although the appearance of people is very different, in terms of fascination, I am afraid that it is no better. He has a good waist, only a little too thin, looking sturdy and light enough.——Quoted from Chapter 23 

Book Summary 

After reading for a long time, it was a pity that I didn't take advantage of the situation to continue reading English novels. Julien is a layman, a layman who is ambitious, dares to do, and is determined to climb up, so he becomes a tragedy. 

His love has a utilitarian purpose, but in the end, he always traps himself, so he is doomed to fail. His true feelings and false intentions are indeed very touching, real, contemptible, cute, and pathetic. 

The novel by French writer Stendhal is also his masterpiece. The work tells that the protagonist, Julian, is the son of a small proprietor. With his ingenuity, he hooked up with the mayor’s wife when he was a tutor at the local mayor’s house. 

After the incident was revealed, he fled the mayor’s house and entered the seminary. After being recommended by the dean of the seminary, he went to Paris to work as a personal secretary for the Marquis Ramor, the backbone of the extreme royalist party, and was quickly appreciated and reused by the Marquis. 

At the same time, Julian had an affair with the daughter of the Marquis. Finally, under the planning of the church, the mayor’s wife was forced to write a whistleblower to expose him, ruining his fate. In anger, he shot and wounded the mayor’s wife, was sentenced to death, and went to the guillotine.

Book Review & Analysis

Before opening "The Red and the Black", I thought that I would see a happy story about how a scumbag who was riding on two boats and relied on a woman to topple the boat and died.

What I didn't expect was that I would shed tears for him at the end, and my heartache made me sleepless.

I can't blame myself for misunderstanding him. In the past two hundred years, countless readers have had the same misunderstandings as me. Therefore, I intend to sort out the context of "The Red and the Black" and combine the author's own experience with Stendhal to defend this 23-year-old young man who died of beheading.

1. Julian's prototype

The subtitle of "The Red and the Black" is "The Chronicle of 1830". It tells the protagonist Julian, who is the son of a country carpenter. He is handsome, pale, and weak. He is not good at manual work. 

He only likes to read books, so he is often confronted by his father and two parents. The beating and scolding of my brother. Later, he learned Latin from Father Chelan and was recommended by him to be a tutor at the house of Mr. de Reine, the mayor of Villiers.

There, the 19-year-old Julien fell in love with Madame de Reiner, who was nearly 30 years old. Later, in order to avoid exposure to the scandal, and due to the conscience of Madame de Reiner, under the arrangement of her and Father Chelan, Julien was sent to Besançon Theological Seminary to study.

The dean of the Besançon Theological Seminary, Father Pila, admired Julien very much and recommended him to the Parisian noble Marquis de Lamour as his secretary. 

Julien was highly appreciated by the Marquis de Lamore for his unforgettable stunts and his calm and proper handling ability. During this period, Julien also fell in love with Mathilde, the daughter of Marquis de Lamore, and made her pregnant.

Under pressure from his daughter, the Marquis de Lamore had to give Julien an aristocratic surname and promote him to a cavalry lieutenant. At the moment when Lian was about to take off, the Marquis de Lamore received a letter from Madame de Lainer, accusing Julien of being a shameless person who seduced noble ladies to gain fame and fortune. 

The Marquis was furious and revoked all rewards. Indignant, Julien fired two shots at Madame de Reiner in the church. He was subsequently convicted of beheading and guillotined.

Stendhal's writing "The Red and the Black" is based on a homicide that occurred in 1827, known as the "Baird Murder".

Baird is the son of a horseshoe maker in the country, weak and clever, and learns from the local priest in the church. Later, after being introduced by the priest in the church, he became the tutor of Mr. Michele's family. Later, he fell in love with Mrs. Michelle, who was 11 years older than him, and was swept out by Mr. Michelle. Later Baird went to work in Mr. de Gedong's house, had an affair with his daughter, and was fired. 

At this time, he was repeatedly frustrated in his job search and was rejected when he wanted to return to the church, so he hated Michele and his wife. On a Sunday in July 1827, he sneaked into the village church and fired two shots at Mrs. Michele and then himself. Both of them fell to the ground with serious injuries. In the end, Baird was sentenced to death.

Obviously, Julian's experience and ends are in line with Baird's life trajectory. But it should be noted that literary creation and story archetypes are two different things, and literary characters and character archetypes are two different people.

The biggest difference is that after Baird shot and killed Mrs. Michele, he put all the blame on Mrs. Michele in court, trying to exonerate himself without any regrets, which is shameless. 

And Julian in "The Red and the Black", after shooting Madame de Reiner, refused all the help of exoneration and wanted to die. However, when he learned that Madame de Reiner was still alive, he cried with joy.

From this point alone, it can be seen that Julien in Stendhal’s works has long since broken free from the shackles of the "Baird Murder" and displayed a very complex character full of contradictions.

2. Relying on a woman to dominate? Rely on strength

Undeniably, Julian’s handsome and extraordinary appearance brought him a lot of conveniences:

At the Mayor de Lainer’s house, Madame de Lainer and his maid’s close maid loved him; at the Marquis de Lamore’s house, Miss Mathilde, whose eyes were above the top, also loved him. 

Even when he went to the seminary to report, he walked into a restaurant or coffee shop casually, and he was favored by the proprietress and the waitress and offered almost free dinner and coffee.

Dinner and coffee are nothing more than dinner and coffee. What's even more eye-catching is that Madame de Reiner's love gave him the opportunity to go to seminary for free; Miss Mathilde's love allowed him to rank among the aristocracy and obtain a military rank.

Therefore, as soon as "The Red and the Black" came out, the criticism of Yu Lian relying on women's superiority never ceased.

However, when we analyze carefully, we will find that he did succeed because of women, but this is the result, not his original motive.

What Julian wants is very simple. He wants to be successful, wants to get ahead, and wants to break through the barriers of class. By the way, I also want the favor of noblewomen. 

In other words, Yulian seemed to think that fame and women were side by side, and they were both ways to satisfy his vanity, but he did not regard women as a tool to gain fame.

In fact, when we comb through Julien's life trajectory, we will find that he is more "relied on" by men rather than by women because the key points of his promotion actually come from powerful men.

Julian's first promotion was from the carpenter's son to become a tutor, thanks to the recommendation of his teacher, Father Sheran.

His second promotion was from a tutor to a seminary student. Although Mrs. de Reiner encouraged her husband to contribute, the way was still found by Father Chelan, because the dean of the Besançon seminary was his old friend. And the reason why the dean took a look at Lian Gao from the beginning is precisely based on this.

His third promotion was from a seminary student to the secretary of the great aristocracy, which was introduced by Father Pila, the dean of the seminary. The Marquis de Lamore regards him not only as a right-hand man but also as a junior and friend.

Why are these men so important? Is it because of his hue?

"The Red and the Black" has long given us the answer: because of his outstanding appearance, he was able to remember the Latin version of the "Bible" upside down; in the seminary, he was almost the first in the course, and he made an exception. 

Become a teaching assistant; when working for the Marquis de Lamore, he was not only competent in daily affairs, but also able to break through numerous obstacles, risking his life to send secret letters to the Marquis abroad; he studied riding and swordsmanship hard, and even was able to win The noble son who knows this well...

As the title of the book indicates, Julien’s position on himself is very clear he wears a red uniform, he must become a highly successful general; if he wears the black robe of the church, he must become a high-ranking officer. bishop.

Indeed, he is ambitious, but his ambition also comes from his outstanding ability. Miss Mathilde also saw this point. As she told her father, Julien is a man who can do a good job in any era. Of course, she also admits that it will be much faster to have noble people help.

Three or two diametrically opposed romances

Even though it has been argued that Julian does not rely on women to dominate, however, a new moral condemnation has come: if he regards the favor of ladies as a tool to satisfy vanity, then he is sincere to Madame de Reiner and Miss Mathilde? Are you playing with the relationship between these two women?

Julian first met Madame de Reiner. He was only 19 years old, with a sense of sensitivity and shyness that he had never seen in the world. His appearance was so weak and beautiful, not a few years older than his wife’s son, and he easily received his wife’s affection.

Although this lady is a well-known beauty in the city, she is not proud of it. From getting married at the age of sixteen to the present, she has always kept herself safe. Even if she has no feelings for her husband, she is still a competent wife and mother and never cares about the pursuit of other men. 

We can imagine how such a gentle, kind, beautiful woman without class prejudice brought so much spiritual comfort to Julien who was beaten and scolded by her father and brother and had no mother since she was a child.

More than once in the book, Madame de Lehner is compared to a loving mother. Julien is indeed like her son to some extent. Only in front of her will, he lets go of his arrogant self-esteem and ask some naive and ridiculous questions, because there is almost no common sense in upper-class society, and he knows that Madame de Reiner will not laugh at him, full of security.

Obviously, this love affair between Julien and Madame de Reiner has an obvious Oedipus-style Oedipus complex, which we will analyze in detail later.

However, Miss Mathilde is completely different. Regarding Madame de Reiner, Julien had the courage to take the initiative, while towards Miss Mathilde, the marquis's daughter, Julien had always stayed away.

The reason is simple, it is because of Julian's extremely sensitive self-esteem. Contrary to the gentleness and kindness of Madame de Reiner, Mathilde is domineering. Relying on her prominent family background and amazing beauty, she treats countless suitors as clowns and is extremely tired of what everyone dreams of.

For such a person, Julian would only erect a thick heart wall, without showing any emotion, so as to avoid being insulted and ridiculed by these superior people. Instead, it was Miss Mathilde, who realized that Julian's reserved and restrained aroused a strong desire to conquer, and took the initiative to grab his arm.

At this time, Julien's relationship with Madame de Reiner had already ended at the request of his wife. It is worth noting that this is strong evidence that Yu Lian did not intend to rely on a woman to be in power. 

If he really wanted to, Miss Mathilde would definitely be the best person to help him be in power. He would never be so indifferent. Even more proof of this is Julian's awkward simplicity in feelings.

When Julian was actively invited by Mathilde, he crawled into her room in the middle of the night. After getting her, Julian's heart ignited a strong love for her. And Mathilde, out of consistent self-willed arrogance, lost interest in him after confirming that he got Julian's heart, and even insulted his humble origin.

Mathilde would deliberately mention other suitors. Julien didn’t understand that this was the most common form of wanting to get caught, so he didn’t want to live for it; when she trampled on his self-esteem with the harshest language again, he even wanted to take the sword and kill him. 

This woman who loved and hated, and then committed suicide, was truly heartbroken. Judging from Julian's reaction, where is the slightest way to use a woman's superior love veteran? Instead, the noble lady played with her between applause.

Later, at the order of a Russian prince, Julien finally learned how to squeeze, and understood that he had to show that he didn't love her before he could get her love. 

In this battle of love conquest, Julien gradually gained the initiative by indifference. However, he still couldn't control himself more than once, showing his tenderness and love for Mathilde.

These two romances of Julien, for Madame de Reiner, are the "love of the soul" and the tender homeland where his soul rests; and for Miss Mathilde, it is the "love of reason", which is his will to sharpen his will. Shura Field. 

Although completely different, we can still see that he has true love in his heart for these two women.

4. "Unreasonable" murder

Many people have disputes about the ending of "The Red and the Black". Take Maugham, for example, in "The Master and Masterpiece", he thinks that Julian is very different from the prototype Baird, but Stendhal still lets him shoot his mistress like Baird, which is totally unreasonable.

At first glance, it seems to make sense. Baird has hatred and murder because of desperation and is trying to sophise his crime, which is consistent with his despicable character.

However, this is not the case for Julien. After seeing Madame de Reiner's letter, Julien hardly showed any extreme feelings. He just went straight to the gun store to buy a gun, sneaked into the church, and fired two shots at Madame de Reiner.

It is worth noting that Julian hesitated before firing the gun and could hardly bear it; but after the incident, he didn't even want to escape and was arrested with his hands. During the interrogation, he confessed to his homicide without arguing but only asked for death.

We can see that even though the Marquis de Lamore revoked the award to Lian after receiving the letter from Madame de Lainer, he still promised that as long as he left France and abandoned his daughter, he would be given one every year. Ten thousand francs subsidy. This is a huge sum of money, enough to make the ambitious Julian make a comeback in any country.

Why did Julien give up a still bright future and go to a dead-end with Madame de Reiner? Is this still the one Julian who is willing to die a thousand times in order to get ahead? The answer to this "unreasonable" plot criticized by Maugham is actually in the letter. I have extracted the most critical sentences from the letter:
"Sir, you ask me about this person who is all true... This person is poor and greedy, relying on sheer hypocrisy, trying to seek social status by seducing a weak and unfortunate woman, and getting ahead... He wants to be one. One of the means of success in the family is to try to seduce the most influential woman in the family."
Many people were taken astray by Madame de Lainer’s letter. Like the Marquis de Lamore, the letter written in the letter was exactly what he expected to see, thinking that Julian was a man who gained fame and fortune by hue. shameless.

However, as readers, from the perspective of the omniscient and omnipotent God, after reading this book, we will find that this is pure slander. More importantly, Madame de Reiner will later admit that this letter was pre-written by her confessional priest and forced her to copy it in the name of religious belief. It was not her original intention at all.

In fact, the relationship between Julien and Madame de Reiner can be said to be easy to talk about, without any resentment. At that time, his wife and Yu Lian acted together in a play, and her husband sent Julian away. The best way was to pay him to study at the seminary. 

The biggest reason for Madame de Reiner's doing this was that her beloved youngest son was seriously ill. As a devout believer, she felt that she was punished by God for her derailment, so she was willing to take the initiative to terminate the relationship.

The reason why she cooperated in writing this slanderous letter was that she wanted to die in Lien's hands. She could not bear the dual torment of religion and love, and could not commit suicide, so she had no choice but to resort to this. 

This explains that when she did not die after being shot, she was able to ignore the pain of the gunshot wound and try her best to surrender to Julian, hoping to use "victim's forgiveness" to exonerate Julian.

At that time, Julian didn't know it. Madame de Reiner was his first love, the first woman in the true sense of his life. He once said that the time with Madame de Reiner made him feel the happiness of life for the first time... Only in front of her can he take off every layer of defense like a child and reveal the softest and most fragile part of his mind without worrying about being hurt or being used.

It is conceivable that when Julian read that letter, a woman he valued so much, and described his precious memories as "poverty", "hypocrisy" and "greed", how he lost all his thoughts. We can say that the motive that governed Julian's shooting at Madame de Reiner was not resentment, but heartbreak.

5. Julian Stendhal's ideal projection

The reason why Julian departed from Baird's prototype and became what we see today is obviously related to the author's life experience. On the surface, the Julian that Stendhal has portrayed is completely opposite to him in every respect:

Yulian is tall and handsome, while Stendhal has short legs, a round face, and small eyes. My uncle once comforted the young Stendhal and said, "You are ugly, but you have a great bearing."

Julien was very popular with women, and the two beautiful ladies loved him madly in love; while Stendhal was repeatedly frustrated in love, and most of the countless women he pursued in his life ended in disastrous failures, even the women he had once acquired. , Is also a sad history:

For example, Stendhal seduced his cousin, Mrs. Dalu, who had to obey her strange rules in every tryst. She was to avoid her husband in name but in fact to avoid her many other lovers.

Stendhal also hopelessly loved the daughter of a plump cloth merchant. He has missed her for eleven years. When he finally got her, he happily embroidered the sweet time on strap-September 20, half-past eleven noon. In fact, she gave such a generous sacrifice to every suitor.

He once had a mistress who was an actress. In order to get her to agree to travel with him, Stendhal managed to collect three thousand francs, which made the mistress condescend to walk with him.

On the other hand, even in his dreams, Julie wanted to be born a few decades earlier, so that he could gain a prominent military rank in Napoleon's army and change his humble background. But Stendhal himself really played under Napoleon. In 1812, he followed Napoleon on an expedition to Russia.

However, even so, Stendhal’s and Julian’s ambitious ambitions for fame and fame are completely different. Whether in Napoleon’s army or as a local official, he is scornful, just thinking about playing around for nothing and playing around for official business I'm not interested in promotion and even quit my job simply because the place where I was transferred is too boring.

In fact, when Stendhal was in his 40s or 50s, he was sitting at his desk and wrote the 400,000-character "The Red and the Black" because he was too idle. When he got older, his appearance became worse. Without much money, no woman can be found.

Yes, woman, this is Stendhal's highest desire throughout his life. To be precise, what he pursues is unforgettable love. Stendhal once said:

"For me, love is always the biggest thing, more precisely the only important thing."

On the surface, Stendhal and Julien are very different, but only a discerning person can see their essence. In The Biography of Three Writers, Zweig believed that Stendhal took his sensitive, suspicious, and eager love inner world from his crude skin and put it under Julian's commensurate handsome appearance.

Therefore, we can see that in "The Red and the Black", when Julian eliminates suspicion and feels goodwill, he will be moved to tears. Under his guarded arrogance, he has a sentimental heart; he still can easily get the care of women. 

After he became a murderer, two noble and beautiful women persisted in him, and one of them almost died at his hands. This kind of touching feeling is exactly what Stendhal could not have hoped for all his life.

6. Stendhal’s Oedipus complex

At the end of "The Red and the Black", before his death, Julian and Mrs. de Reiner confided their suspicion and regained the unsuspecting and incomparable sense of intimacy. This plot conception must be traced back to Stendhal’s childhood. experience.

Stendhal lost his mother when he was 7 years old and was raised by a strict father and aunt. It is easy to think of Julian in a similar situation. Stendhal had a strong love for his mother since he was a child. In his autobiography "Henri Brule", he wrote about childhood memories:
"I love my mother... I want to kiss my mother everywhere,... She loves me too and keeps kissing me. I came back and kissed her passionately, and she sometimes had to run away. I Hate my father when he walked in and interrupted our kiss."
Stendhal’s obvious Oedipus complex can explain why Julian re-transferred all his love to Madame de Reiner in her thirties at the last moment of her life. On the contrary, she was more beautiful and younger. The prestigious Miss Mathilde became cold.

According to Julian's concept, even if Mathilde is pregnant with his child, he thinks that after his death, she will soon marry another wishful man based on his family background and beauty, and will soon forget him. 

Only Madame de Reiner forgave him for his crimes, and she would sincerely shed tears for him. He even had to force her to make an agreement with her not to commit suicide due to grief.

In the end, Julian went to the guillotine without any regrets in a very happy mood. Because he got the most precious and selfless love in the world, he was once blinded by fanatical ambition, and instead of grasping it tightly, he wanted to explore the world of flowers and do some business. 

It was only now that he realized that the time spent with Madame de Reiner was the culmination of his happiness in life.

Unfortunately, Julian got what he wanted, but Stendhal did not have his good looks, nor did he have good luck. Among the many women he chased in his life, no one could bring him such happiness.

In 1842, 59-year-old Stendhal suffered a stroke and died lonely on the streets of Paris in the early hours of the next morning. People found the famous epitaph in his manuscript:

"Living, writing, loving."

Yes, as Stendhal said, he "lived" and "written" in this way, and engraved the most memorable "love" on Julien's tombstone.

Study notes

Julien was astonished: religion was inextricably tied, in his mind, to hypocrisy and the hope of acquiring riches. He admired these pious, stern men who did not concern themselves with making ends meet.
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