The Red and the Black
Stendhal, Roger Gard, Roger Gard
Mr B's review
A classic 19th-century French drama, The Red and the Black features social climbing, corrupt priests, a political plot, adultery and attempted murder – what more could you want from a novel? This epic tale of love, hypocrisy and cold-blooded ambition tells the story of the clever and determined but naïvely romantic Julien Sorel as he rises through the ranks of society, relying on his wits and charm to climb from a priest’s seminary in rural France to infiltrate the ranks of the Parisian nobility. One of the delights of this slyly satirical novel are Stendhal’s constant winks and nudges to the reader, inviting you to make your own judgements on the morally-dubious actions of the characters.
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 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.
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