Why this book?
The Red and the Black (or Le Rouge et le Noir) was published by French author Stendhal in 1830. The action across the two volumes takes place from 1814 to 1830, so the 1820s are included. The title refers to the two competing ambitions of the hero, Julien Sorel, who can’t decide whether he wants the glamour and excitement of a military career (red uniform) or the moral calm of life as a priest (black cassock). I was forced to read this in French at school and hated it, but when I returned to it in English years later I was completely absorbed by Julien’s struggles – although, to be honest, he’s a ghastly fellow and rather deserves his fate. It’s an epic, sweeping read and guaranteed to impress anyone French if you mention you’ve read it.
Why should I read it?
What is this book about?
Traces the ascent and descent of a young, aspirational social climber in a harsh, monarchical country.
Julien Sorel, a handsome and aspirational man, is determined to overcome his lowly provincial upbringing. He soon realises that the only way to succeed is to follow the sophisticated code of hypocrisy that governs society, so he starts to progress by lying and self-interest. His successful job leads him into the centre of glitzy Parisian society, where he triumphs over the proud Mathilde and the kind, married Madame de Rênal. Then, though, Julien commits a shocking, terrible crime—leading to his own demise. In The…