The Red and the Black

Work Name: The Red and the Black
Work Type: Novel
Date: 1830
Movement: Modern Literature

The Red and the Black

Le Rouge et le Noir (French pronunciation:[l u e l() nwa]; meaning The Red and the Black) 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. He ultimately allows his passions to betray him.

The novel's full title, Le Rouge et le Noir: Chronique du XIXe sicle (The Red and the Black: A Chronicle of the 19th Century), indicates its twofold literary purpose as both a psychological portrait of the romantic protagonist, Julien Sorel, and an analytic, sociological satire of the French social order under the Bourbon Restoration (181430). In English, Le Rouge et le Noir is variously translated as Red and Black, Scarlet and Black, and The Red and the Black, without the subtitle.

The title is taken to refer to the tension between the clerical (black) and secular (red) interests of the protagonist, but this interpretation is but one of many.


Le Rouge et le Noir is the Bildungsroman of Julien Sorel, the intelligent and ambitious protagonist. He comes from a poor family and fails to understand much about the ways of the world he sets out to conquer. He harbours many romantic illusions, but becomes mostly a pawn in the political machinations of the ruthless and influential people about him. The adventures of the hero satirize early 19th-century French society, accusing the aristocracy and Catholic clergy of being hypocritical and materialistic, foretelling the radical changes that will soon depose them from their leading roles in French society.

The first volume's epigraph, "La vrit, l'pre vrit" ("The truth, the harsh truth"), is attributed to Danton, but like most of the chapters' epigraphs it is actually fictional. The first chapter of each volume repeats the title Le Rouge et le Noir and the subtitle Chronique de 1830. The title refers to the contrasting uniforms of the army and the church. Early in the story, Julien Sorel realistically observes that under the Bourbon restoration it is impossible for a man of his plebeian social class to distinguish himself in the army (as he might have done under Napoleon), hence only a church career offers social advancement and glory.

In complete editions, the first book ("Livre premier", ending after Chapter XXX) concludes with the quotation "To the Happy Few" from The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, parts of which Stendhal had memorized in the course of teaching himself English. In The Vicar, "the happy few" read the title character's obscure and pedantic treatise on monogamy--alone.


In two volumes, The Red and the Black: A Chronicle of the 19th Century tells the story of Julien Sorel's life in France's rigid social structure restored after the disruptions of the French Revolution and the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Book I

Julien Sorel, the ambitious son of a carpenter in the fictional village of Verrires, in Franche-Comt, France, would rather read and daydream about the glorious victories of Napoleon's long-disbanded army than work in his father's timber business with his brothers, who beat him for his intellectual pretensions. He becomes an acolyte of the Abb Chlan, the local Catholic prelate, who secures for Julien a job tutoring the children of Monsieur de Rnal, the mayor of Verrires. Although representing himself as a pious, austere cleric, Julien is uninterested in religious studies beyond the Bible's literary value and his ability to use memorized Latin passages to impress his social superiors.

He begins a love affair with Monsieur de Rnal's wife, which ends when her chambermaid, Elisa, who is also in love with Julien, makes it known to the village. The Abb Chlan orders Julien to a seminary in Besanon, which he finds intellectually stifling and populated by social cliques. The initially cynical seminary director, the Abb Pirard, likes Julien and becomes his protector. When the Abb, a Jansenist, leaves the seminary, he fears Julien will suffer for having been his protg and recommends Sorel as private secretary to the diplomat Marquis de la Mole, a Catholic legitimist.

Book II

In the years leading up to the July Revolution of 1830, Julien Sorel lives in Paris as an employee of the de la Mole family. Despite his sophistication and intellect, Julien is condescended to as an uncouth plebeian by the de la Moles and their friends. Meanwhile, Julien is acutely aware of the materialism and hypocrisy that permeate the Parisian elite and that the counterrevolutionary temper of the time renders it impossible for even well-born men of superior intellect and sthetic sensibility to participate in the nation's public affairs.

Julien accompanies the Marquis de la Mole to a secret meeting, then is dispatched on a dangerous mission to communicate a letter from memory to the Duc d'Angoulme, who is exiled in England; but the callow Julien is distracted by an unrequited love affair and learns the message only by rote, missing its political significance as part of a legitimist plot. Unwittingly, he risks his life in service to the monarchists he most opposes; to himself, he rationalises these actions as merely helping the Marquis, his employer, whom he respects.

Meanwhile, the Marquis's languorous daughter, Mathilde de la Mole, has become emotionally torn between her romantic attraction to Julien for his admirable personal and intellectual qualities and her revulsion at becoming sexually intimate with a lower-class man. At first Julien finds her unattractive, but his interest is piqued by her attentions and the admiration she inspires in others; twice, she seduces and rejects him, leaving him in a miasma of despair, self-doubt, and happiness (for having won her over her aristocratic suitors). Only during his secret mission does he learn the key to winning her affections: a cynical jeu d'amour (game of love) taught to him by Prince Korasoff, a Russian man-of-the-world. At great emotional cost, Julien feigns indifference to Mathilde, provoking her jealousy with a sheaf of love-letters meant to woo Madame de Fervaques, a widow in the social circle of the de la Mole family. Consequently, Mathilde sincerely falls in love with Julien, eventually revealing to him that she carries his child; nevertheless, while he is on diplomatic mission in England, she becomes officially engaged to Monsieur de Croisenois, an amiable and wealthy young noble, heir to a duchy.

Learning of Julien's liaison with Mathilde, the Marquis de la Mole is angered, but he relents before her determination and his affection for Julien and bestows upon Julien an income-producing property attached to an aristocratic title as well as a military commission in the army. Although ready to bless their marriage, the marquis changes his mind after receiving a character-reference letter about Julien from the Abb Chlan, Julien's previous employer in Verrires. Written by Madame de Rnal at the urging of her confessor priest, the letter warns the marquis that Julien is a social-climbing cad that preys upon emotionally vulnerable women.

On learning that the marquis now withholds his blessing of his marriage, Julien Sorel returns with a gun to Verrires and shoots Madame de Rnal during Mass in the village church; she survives, but Julien is imprisoned and sentenced to death. Mathilde tries to save him by bribing local officials, and Madame de Rnal, still in love with him, refuses to testify and pleads for his acquittal, aided by the priests who have looked after him since his early childhood. Yet Sorel is determined to die, for the materialistic society of Restoration France has no place for a low-born man, whatever his intellect or sensibilities.

Meanwhile, the presumptive duke, Monsieur de Croisenois, one of the fortunate few of Bourbon France, is killed in a duel over a slur upon the honour of Mathilde de la Mole. Her undiminished love for Julien, his imperiously intellectual nature and romantic exhibitionism render Mathilde's prison visits to him a duty to endure and little more.

When Julien learns that Madame de Rnal survived her gunshot wound, his authentic love for her is resurrected, having lain dormant throughout his Parisian sojourn, and she continues to visit him in jail. After he is guillotined, Mathilde de la Mole reenacts the cherished 16th-century French tale of Queen Margot, who visited her dead lover, Joseph Boniface de La Mole, to kiss the forehead of his severed head. Mathilde then erects a shrine at Julien's tomb in the Italian fashion. Madame de Rnal, more quietly, dies in the arms of her children only three days later.

Structure and themes

Le Rouge et le Noir is set in the latter years of the Bourbon Restoration (181430) and the days of the 1830 July Revolution that established the Kingdom of the French (183048). Julien Sorel's worldly ambitions are motivated by the emotional tensions between his idealistic Republicanism and his nostalgic allegiance to Napoleon, and the realistic politics of counter-revolutionary conspiracy by Jesuit-supported legitimists, notably the Marquis de la Mole, whom Julien serves for personal gain. Presuming a knowledgeable reader, Stendhal only alludes to the historical background of Le Rouge et le Noiryet did subtitle the novel Chronique de 1830 ("Chronicle of 1830"). The reader who wants an expos of the same historical background might wish to read Lucien Leuwen (1834), one of Stendhal's unfinished novels, posthumously published in 1894.

Stendhal repeatedly questions the possibility and the desirability of "sincerity," because most of the characters, especially Julien Sorel, are acutely aware of having to play a role to gain social approval. In that 19th-century context, the word "hypocrisy" denoted the affectation of high religious sentiment; in The Red and the Black it connotes the contradiction between thinking and feeling.

In Mensonge romantique et vrit romanesque (Deceit, Desire and the Novel, 1961), philosopher and critic Ren Girard identifies in Le Rouge et le Noir the triangular structure he denominates as "mimetic desire"; that is, one desires a person only when he or she is desired by someone else. Girard's proposition is that a person's desire for another is always mediated by a third party. This triangulation thus accounts for the perversity of the MathildeJulien relationship, which is most evident when Julien begins courting the widow Mme de Fervaques to pique Mathilde's jealousy, and also accounts for Julien's fascination with and membership in the high society he simultaneously desires and despises. To help achieve a literary effect, Stendhal wrote most of the epigraphsliterary, poetic, historic quotationsthat he attributed to others.

Literary and critical significance

Andr Gide said that The Red and the Black was a novel ahead of its time, that it was a novel for readers in the 20th century. In Stendhal's time, prose novels included dialogue and omniscient narrator descriptions; Stendhal's great contribution to literary technique was the describing of the psychologies (feelings, thoughts, and interior monologues) of the characters. As a result, he is considered the creator of the psychological novel.

In Jean-Paul Sartre's play Les mains sales (1948), the protagonist Hugo Barine suggests pseudonyms for himself, including "Julien Sorel", whom he resembles.

In the afterword to her novel, them, Joyce Carol Oates wrote that she had originally entitled the manuscript Love and Money as a nod to classic 19th-century novels, among them, The Red and the Black, "whose class-conscious hero Julien Sorel is less idealistic, greedier, and crueler than Jules Wendell but is clearly his spiritual kinsman."

A passage describing Julien Sorel's sexual indifference is deployed as the epigraph to Paul Schrader's screenplay of American Gigolo, whose protagonist is also named Julien: "The idea of a duty to be performed, and the fear of making himself ridiculous if he failed to perform it, immediately removed all pleasure from his heart."


Le Rouge et le Noir, Chronique du XIXe sicle (1830) was first translated into English ca. 1900; the best-known translation, The Red and the Black (1926) by Charles Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff, has been, like his other translations, characterised as one of his "fine, spirited renderings, not entirely accurate on minor points of meaning . . . Scott Moncrieff's versions have not really been superseded." The version by Robert M. Adams for the Norton Critical Editions series is also highly regarded; it "is more colloquial; his edition includes an informative section on backgrounds and sources, and excerpts from critical studies." Other translators include Margaret R. B. Shaw (as Scarlet and Black for Penguin Classics, 1953), Lowell Blair (Bantam Books, 1959), Lloyd C. Parks (New York, 1970), Catherine Slater (Oxford World's Classics, first published 1991), and Roger Gard (Penguin Classics, 2002).

The 2006 translation by Burton Raffel for the Modern Library edition generally earned positive reviews, with saying, "[Burton Raffel's] exciting new translation of The Red and the Black blasts Stendhal into the twenty-first century." Michael Johnson, writing in The New York Times, said, "Now The Red and the Black is getting a new lease on life with an updated English-language version by the renowned translator Burton Raffel. His version has all but replaced the decorous text produced in the 1920s by the Scottish-born writer-translator C.K. Scott-Moncrieff."

Burned in 1964 Brazil

Following the 1964 Brazilian coup d'tat, General Justino Alves Bastos, commander of the Third Army, ordered, in Rio Grande do Sul, the burning of all "subversive books." Among the books he branded as subversive was The Red and the Black.

Film adaptations

  • Der geheime Kurier (The Secret Courier) is a silent 1928 German film by Gennaro Righelli, featuring Ivan Mosjoukine, Lil Dagover, and Valeria Blanka.
  • Il Corriere del re (The Courier of the King) is a black-and-white 1947 Italian film adaptation of the story also directed by Gennaro Righelli. It features Rossano Brazzi, Valentina Cortese, and Irasema Dilin.
  • Another film adaptation of the novel was released in 1954, directed by Claude Autant-Lara. It stars Grard Philipe, Antonella Lualdi, and Danielle Darrieux. It won the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics award for the best film of the year.
  • Le Rouge et le Noir is a 1961 French made-for-TV film version directed by Pierre Cardinal, with Robert Etcheverry, Micheline Presle, Marie Lafort, and Jean-Roger Caussimon.
  • A BBC TV miniseries in five episodes, The Scarlet and the Black, was made in 1965, starring John Stride, June Tobin, and Karin Fernald.
  • (Krasnoe i rnoe) (Red and Black) is a 1976 Soviet film version, directed by Sergei Gerasimov, with Nikolai Yeryomenko Ml, Natalya Bondarchuk, and Natalya Belokhvostikova.
  • Another BBC TV miniseries called Scarlet and Black was first broadcast in 1993, starring Ewan McGregor, Rachel Weisz, and Stratford Johns as the Abb Pirard. A notable addition to the plot was the spirit of Napoleon (Christopher Fulford), who advises Sorel (McGregor) through his rise and fall.
  • A made-for-TV film version of the novel called The Red and the Black was first broadcast in 1997 by Koch Lorber Films, starring Kim Rossi Stuart, Carole Bouquet, and Judith Godrche; it was directed by Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe. This version is available on DVD.

See also

  • Bildungsroman



  • Burt, Daniel S. (2003). The Novel 100. Checkmark Books. ISBN0-8160-4558-5.

External links

  • Media related to The Red and the Black at Wikimedia Commons
  • French Wikisource has original text related to this article: The Red and the Black
  • Le Rouge et Le Noir at Project Gutenberg
  • Stendhal & Scott Moncrieff, C.K. (Translator). The Red and the Black. eBooks@Adelaide (University of Adelaide). Retrieved 4 June 2016.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)

Content provided by Wikipedia

Our Mission

The History of Creativity is a visual encyclopaedia that allows you to time travel to any time and place in the past or present.