[Book Review] The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Title: The Red and the Black
Original Title: Le Rouge et le Noir
Publisher: Signet Classics
Published: June 6th, 2006 (First Published 1830)
No. of Pages: 544
Category: Classic Literature/Fiction/Historical Fiction/Romance
In December 1827, a French newspaper ran a story about a young man charged with the attempted murder of a married woman. The article fired the imagination of Marie Henri Beyle, and under the pen name Stendhal, he set to writing what was to become one of the great psychological novels of all time. “I will be famous around 1880,” he predicted in one of his many diaries. “I shall not go out of style, nor my glory go out of style.”
Set in a provincial French town and in Paris, The Red and the Black tells the story of Julien Sorel, a handsome and brilliant young tutor who is both hero and villain. Cold, opportunistic, and uncompromising with others—including his influential mistress—he follows his lust for power and wealth. At the same time, he is tortured by his uncontrollable passions, and by the military and religious forces—the enigmatic “Red” and “Black”—that dominate French society in the years following the Revolution.
I didn’t pay much attention to classics. When I was in college, I hated literature class because the lecturer was obsessed with Shakespeare and I was tortured inside out. I was skeptical and in my mind, classics were boring and torturing, it’s a waste of time.
The Red and the Black proved me wrong. I was hooked. The story is gripping, the words were crafted beautifully, and the characters are memorable. It’s more tragic than the infamous Romeo and Juliet in some ways.
Julien was ambitious and willing to do anything to reach the top. He was enthralled by the bourgeois’ lifestyle and was obsessed to be part of them.
He started with teaching Madame de Rênal’s children and ended up hooking up with her. They broke up because some circumstances force them to.
Then Julien went back to school to study. Again, he was determined to be number one. Later, he found out about the dirty tricks inside the church.
He was offered to work for Monsieur de la Mole in Paris, and he fell in love with Mathilde, his daughter. Mathilde was one sick lady who was obsessed with the story of Margret. I don’t want to spill this part because this is the hint which leads to the tragic (or engrossing) ending.
The Red and the Black was set in France after the fall of Napoleon/post-revolutionary in France where noblemen reigned and church began to spread its power.
Julien is the perfect portrayal of a normal human being who has good and bad sides. It’s like you’re dealing with personal demons but deep inside you know what’s the right thing to do.
He might be complicated and dangerous, but in the end I have sympathy for him. (Now playing Sympathy for the Devil).
The Red and the Black is the best classics reading so far. Why is it underrated?
I’d like to see the movie. Hope Tubeplus has the English subtitle for this.
“A good book is an event in my life.”
“Our true passions are selfish.”
“Indeed, man has two different beings inside him. What devil thought of that malicious touch?”
If I were a director:
Ian Somerhalder would be perfect for Julien Sorel. He’s handsome, and just look at his smirk. He’s good at being bad.
I can’t think of anybody else to play Louise de Rênal. Marcia Cross is Louise.
Elisa is Louise’s maid who fell in love with Julien. She’s wicked, full of rage and definitely jealous that Julien loves Louise. Mila Kunis would be perfect.
Aimee Teegarden as Mathilde de la Mole. Snotty, spoiled, and obsessed with Margret’s story. It would be interesting to cast her as a troubled lady.
Monsieur de Rênal. Prototype of the provincial petty aristocracy, the wealthy mayor of Verrières.
Richard Gere as Abbé Chélan, Julien’s first mentor.
Donald Sutherland as Old Sorel, the greedy old scumbag who’s interested earning Julien’s inheritance.