The novel starts with a scene of the provincial town of Verreieres, in Southern France. The book introduces the nail making factory to the reader, owned by the town mayor, M. de Renal. He seems to be a person who has the favor of his people. They accuse him of participating in the industry and that he supported the return of the absolutist monarchy in 1815 (Stendhal 17). While the mayor tried to exhibit his authority, he was embarrassed by an old resident called Sorel, the owner of the local sawmill. Sorel had tricked Renal into paying double for a piece of land and this humiliated M. de Renal publicly. While walking through the town with his wife, the mayor, come across the priest, M. Chalan, together with the director of the poorhouse, M. Valenod. Chelan. The director is a kind man and a philanthropic that the mayor does not trust.
Despite that M. de Renal and M. Valenod say that they are good friends, M. Valentine is a bourgeois liberal and also the mayor’s political advisor. Because M. Valenod is becoming a rich person by the day, the Mayor confides in his wife and tells her that he has decided to hire the son of Sorel, Julien to be the personal teacher of their three children (Stendhal 23). Through this plan, he hopes that by having a tutor, it is prestigious and he will surpass Valenod who had added addition of two horses. However, when M. de Renal meets with the old Sorel to talk about the payment agreements, Sorel manipulates him again into paying more than what is Julien’s worth.
The Old Sorel is not fond of Julien, a person who does not find any pride in physical labor and is studying Latin with M. Chelan, who is training to become a priest. While Julien is a good looking fellow, people scorn him for being a weakling (Stendhal 23). Julien’s older brothers beat him so many times and also Sorel beats because he wants his son to stay at the mayor’s house. However, Julien does not want to be the only servant in M. de Renal’s house hence, he is contemplating to run away. Sorel seeks an assurance from M. de Renal that Julien should not be like a servant that they will stay together as a family and do what families do. Sorel also asks that Julien receives new clothes and money.
Because Julien is a highly ambitious person, he agrees to this position with the notion that he will be a better man in society. He is also a man that admires Napoleon, and this drives him to dream about joining the military and achieving economic success. He yearns to get a rise from the bottom of society. Julien’s godfather is a surgeon-major in Napoleon’s army, mentored him and told him about Napoleon’s great victories and his wife, Josephine (Stendhal 31). However, when his grandfather died for his liberal beliefs, Julien found out that the best way to survive in society was to rely on pretense. As such, he stops talking about Napoleon in public and tells people that he wants to become a priest. He realizes that the only way for success is to ride on the one church, the military is not the road to success like during napoleon’s time.
In chapter 1- 10, Stendhal creates political dimensions of the story in the first pages by describing the mayor as a competitive, dumb, and greedy individual. M. de Renal is a conservative aristocrat as well as a staunch supporter of the Bourbon Restoration, and this does not go well with the rest of the community. The mayor was in leadership since napoleon’s loss of victory. However, French society had changed since the 1789 Revolution. The main rivals for the mayor were the bourgeoisie and this aristocrat. There was no money, and men like Renal decided to become business people. He was embarrassed that he had to work and Sorel prided in cheating him out of his money. Old man Sorel and Valenod are the contrast of the political spectrum, the bourgeoisie. Despite the liberal voice of the author, he criticizes M. Valenod for making money through the poorhouse- stealing money from the impoverished people of Verrieres.
Through the chapters, Stendhal’s reveals his reservation about the moral character of the bourgeoisie and seems to criticise aristocracy. The way he portrays M. de Renal as a person that lacks both intelligence and wit shows how the author perceives such individuals. They are people whose interest mainly lay on their social status. For example, Renal is willing to pay more money so that Valenod is not able to afford him (Stendhal 31). The book describes Renal as a greedy individual that wants to acquire more wealth at the expense of the people and resources of Verrieres. The mayor’s main concern is class and ranks because they are the only things that make him appear like a Bourgeois businessman. He has a factory, and his only concern is the profit that he makes. It is important to note that M. de Renal lacks real authority and only has the mayoral position by title. It seems that in Verrieres, public opinion is the only significant force, not the government.
When Julien arrives at Renal’s house, he becomes aware of Mme. De Renal is a wonderful woman. On the other hand, Mme. De Renal feels an attraction towards Julien because he is an attractive and young man. She has no idea what love and so, her being there for her husband and catering for Julien is overwhelming. Julien is playing along because he is trying to get back at M. de Renal. Mme. De Renal’s maid, Elisa, also has her eyes on Julien, and the priests believe that she is a perfect match for Julien. As such, he discourages Julien from joining the priesthood, but he is adamant and wants his career in ministry. However, the priest turns him down because he does not believe that he is the right person for the job. On the other hand, Mme. De Renal is happy that Elisa Julien rejected Elisa and this makes her know that she is in love with him. During spring, the family locates to the summer home in the village called Vergy.
Despite the outstanding conviction of the characters, the reader cannot help but feel the amusement of the comedy and cross purposes played in these chapters. The climax is in chapter 15 where Julien Seduces Mme. De. Renal. The win is not because of Julien’s art, but his charm. The author manipulates the scenes in such a way that the three main characters, Mme. De Renal, Julien and Renal are independent by contributing to each other’s convergence (Stenhal 350. From the analysis of the chapters, there is an unwitting conspiracy that manifests in almost every character. Julien has the ambition to seduce Mme. De Renal and does not do this because of his love for her but as a duty to himself. He owes feels like he has an obligation to himself to take her hand but forgot about it the following morning.
The author uses the mayor to show how his attitude provokes Julien to the extent of wanting revenge. Surprisingly, the mayor gives him a salary raise and Julien discovers that his second victor is not his earning (Stendahal 43) As such, his next step is because of his hatred towards the mayor. When he takes Mme. de Renal’s hand in the presence of her husband, he was expressing his ridicule. He goes to lengths of enjoying the pleasure that her beauty causes. As such, he continues to grow in courage that he wanted to crush the mayor by asking for a three-day leave. However, his feelings for Mme de Renal begin, and he finds that he is longing to see her again. Julien also realises that Mme. de Renal loves and he starts to learn something about women. Because he has no love that prompts him, only his pride, he announces that he loves her so much. He is a hypocrite who wants to execute his plan and makes one mistake after the other. Had Mme. de Renal not believed Julien’s confession, she would not have given herself to him.
To sum it up, the novel shed lights on the hypocritical nature of the people in the society. Most people are selfish and only looks out fo themselves. The town people seem to care about money, revenge, and status. As a result, has let to people going to specific lengths, to remain relevant in the society. The mayor does not care about the welfare of the people because his only interest is beating the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the aristocrats who run society, exploit the poor. Even the characters that the author wants to sympathise derive their motivation from the need to revenge. Julien’s lying about his love for Mme. de Renal is a form of military assault on society. In the chapters, Stendhal’s focus is on the aspects that build on the culture such as relationships, family, class, church, and such. He exposes how the majority of the people would instead use unorthodox methods to remain influential. Stendhal tends to criticise how the characters thrive using deception and the need to avenge to feel better about themselves. The author seems to have a fascination with hypocrisy, and this comes from his own experiences with politics. It looks like the deeds of the characters in the book, will not go without punishment. The accounts in the book reflect on the way people in the society pride in things that are shallow because they pride in class, revenge, wealth as opposed to other valuable aspects of social interaction.
Stendhal, H. Beyle. ‘’The Red and Black’’. A Levasseur. 1830.
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