Short summary - The Red and the Black - Stendhal - Marie-Henri Beyle

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Red and the Black
Stendhal - Marie-Henri Beyle

Monsieur de Renal, the mayor of the French town of Verrieres in the Franche-Comté district, a smug and vain man, informs his wife of his decision to take a governor into the house. There is no particular need for a governor, just a local rich man, Mr. Valno, this vulgar screamer, always competing with the mayor, is too proud of a new pair of Norman horses. Well, Mr. Valno now has horses, but there is no governor. M. de Renal has already agreed with Father Sorel that his youngest son will serve him. The old curé M. Shelan recommended him the son of a carpenter as a young man of rare abilities, who has been studying theology for three years and has a brilliant knowledge of Latin. His name is Julien Sorel, he is eighteen years old; he is a short, fragile-looking young man, whose face bears the stamp of striking originality. He has irregular but delicate features, large black eyes sparkling with fire and thought, and dark brown hair. The young girls look at him with interest. Julien never went to school. He was taught Latin and history by a regimental physician, a participant in the Napoleonic campaigns. Dying, he bequeathed to him his love for Napoleon, the Cross of the Legion of Honor and several dozen books. Since childhood, Julien has dreamed of becoming a military man. In the days of Napoleon, for a commoner, this was the surest way to make a career and go public. But times have changed. Julien realizes that the only way open to him is to become a priest. He is ambitious and proud, but he is willing to endure anything to make his way.
Madame de Renal does not like her husband's idea. She adores her three boys, and the thought of an outsider standing between her and the children makes her desperate. She already draws in her imagination a disgusting, rude, disheveled guy who is allowed to yell at her children and even spank them.
Imagine her surprise when she sees in front of her a pale, frightened boy, who seems to her unusually beautiful and very unhappy. However, less than a month later, everyone in the house, even M. de Renal, begins to treat him with respect. Julien carries himself with great dignity, and his knowledge of Latin is admirable - he can read any page of the New Testament by heart.
Madame de Renal's maid Elise falls in love with the young governor. In confession, she tells Abbot Shelan that she received an inheritance and now wants to marry Julien. Curé is sincerely happy for his favorite, but Julien resolutely refuses the enviable offer. He is ambitious and dreams of fame, he wants to conquer Paris. However, he skillfully hides it.
In the summer, the family moves to Vergy, the village where the estate and castle of de Renalei are located. Here Madame de Renal spends whole days with the children and the governor. Julien seems to her smarter, kinder, nobler than all the men around her. She begins to realize that she loves Julien. But does he love her? After all, she is ten years older than him! Julien likes Madame de Renal. He finds her charming, he has never seen such women. But Julien is not at all in love. He wants to conquer Madame de Renal in order to assert himself and to take revenge on this self-righteous M. de Renal, who allows himself to talk to him condescendingly and even rudely.
When Julien warns Madame de Renal that she will come to her bedroom at night, she responds with the most sincere indignation. At night, leaving his room, he dies of fear, his knees give way, but when he sees Madame de Renal, she seems so beautiful to him that all vain nonsense fly out of his head. Julien's tears, his despair conquer Madame de Renal. Several days pass, and Julien, with all the ardor of youth, falls in love with her without memory. The lovers are happy, but Madame de Renal's youngest son suddenly falls seriously ill. And the unfortunate woman thinks that she is killing her son with her love for Julien. She realizes what sin she is committing before God, she is tormented by remorse. She pushes Julien away from her, who is shocked by the depth of her grief and despair. Fortunately, the child is recovering.
Monsieur de Renal suspects nothing, but the servants know a lot. The maid Eliza, meeting Mr. Valno on the street, tells him that her mistress has an affair with the young governor. On the same evening, M. de Renal receives an anonymous letter from which he learns what is happening in his house. Madame de Renal manages to convince her husband of her innocence, but the whole city is only engaged in the history of her love affairs.
Julien's mentor, Abbot Chelan, believes that he should leave the city for at least a year - to his friend the lumber merchant Fouquet or to the seminary in Besançon. Julien leaves Verrieres, but returns three days later to say goodbye to Madame de Renal. He sneaks into her room, but their date is clouded - it seems to them that they are parting forever.
Julien arrives in Besançon and visits the rector of the seminary, Abbot Pirard. He is very agitated, and besides, Pirard's face is so ugly that it terrifies him. For three hours the rector examines Julien and is so impressed by his knowledge of Latin and theology that he accepts him to the seminary on a small scholarship and even gives him a separate cell. This is a great grace. But the seminarians unanimously hate Julien: he is too talented and gives the impression of a thinking person - this is not forgiven here. Julien must choose a confessor for himself, and he chooses Abbot Pirard, not even suspecting that this act will be decisive for him. The abbot is sincerely attached to his student, but the position of Pirard himself in the seminary is very fragile. His enemies the Jesuits are doing everything to force him to resign. Fortunately, he has a friend and patron at court - an aristocrat from Franche-Comté, the Marquis de La Mole, whose orders the abbot regularly carries out. Learning about the persecution that Pirard is subjected to, the Marquis de La Mole offers him to move to the capital and promises one of the best parishes in the vicinity of Paris. Saying goodbye to Julien, the abbot foresees that difficult times await him. But Julien cannot think of herself. Knowing that Pirard needs money, he offers him all his savings. Pirard will not forget this.
The Marquis de La Mole, politician and nobleman, enjoys great influence at court, he receives the Abbot Pirard in his Parisian mansion. In a conversation, he mentions that for several years he has been looking for an intelligent person who could deal with his correspondence. The abbot proposes to this place his pupil - a man of very low origin, but energetic, intelligent, with a high soul. So an unexpected prospect opens up before Julien Sorel - he can get to Paris!
Having received an invitation from the Marquis, Julien first goes to Verrière, hoping to see Madame de Renal. He had heard that of late she had fallen into the most ecstatic piety. Despite many obstacles, he manages to get into his beloved's room. She had never seemed so beautiful to him. However, the husband suspects something, and Julien is forced to flee.
Arriving in Paris, he first of all inspects the places associated with the name of Napoleon, and only then goes to the Abbot Pirard. The abbot introduces Julien to the Marquis, and in the evening he is already sitting at a common table. Opposite him sits a light blonde, unusually slender, with very beautiful, but cold eyes. Julien clearly does not like Mademoiselle Matilda de La Mole.
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new secretary is quickly mastered: after three months, the Marquis considers Julien to be a completely suitable person for himself. He works hard, silent, understanding and gradually begins to handle all the most difficult cases. He becomes a real dandy and fully masters the art of living in Paris. The Marquis de La Mole presents the order to Julien. This calms Julien's pride, now he is more relaxed and does not feel offended as often. But with Mademoiselle de La Mole, he is emphatically cold. This nineteen-year-old girl is very smart, she is bored in the company of her aristocratic friends - Count Kelyus, Viscount de Luz and the Marquis de Croisenois claiming her hand. Once a year, Matilda wears mourning. Julien is told that she is doing this in honor of the ancestor of the Boniface de La Mole family, beloved of Queen Margaret of Navarre, who was beheaded on April 30, 1574 in the Place de Grève in Paris. Legend has it that the queen demanded the head of her lover from the executioner and buried it in the chapel with her own hand.
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Julien sees that Matilda is genuinely concerned about this romantic story. Gradually, he ceases to shy away from talking with Mademoiselle de La Mole. Conversations with her are so interesting that he even forgets his role as an indignant plebeian. It would be funny, he thinks, if she fell in love with me.
Matilda had long understood that she loved Julien. This love seems to her very heroic - the girl of her position loves the carpenter's son! From the moment she realizes that she loves Julien, she ceases to be bored.
Julien himself rather excites his imagination than is carried away by love. But having received a letter from Matilda with a declaration of love, he cannot hide his triumph: a noble lady loves him, a poor peasant, she preferred him to an aristocrat, the Marquis de Croisenois! Matilda is waiting for him at one in the morning. It seems to Julien that this is a trap, that Matilda's friends want to kill him or make him ridiculous. Armed with pistols and a dagger, he enters Mademoiselle de La Mole's room. Matilda is submissive and gentle, but the next day she is horrified at the thought that she has become Julien's mistress. Talking to him, she can barely contain her anger and irritation. Julien's vanity is offended, and they both decide that it's all over between them. But Julien feels that he is madly in love with this wayward girl, that he cannot live without her. Matilda constantly occupies his soul and imagination.
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Julien's acquaintance, the Russian prince Korazov, advises him to arouse the jealousy of his beloved and start courting some secular beauty. The "Russian plan", to Julien's surprise, works flawlessly, Matilda is jealous, she is in love again, and only monstrous pride prevents her from taking a step forward. One day Julien, not thinking about the danger, puts a ladder to Matilda's window. Seeing him, she falls into his arms.
Soon, Mademoiselle de La Mole informs Julien that she is pregnant and wants to marry him. Learning about everything, the Marquis becomes enraged. But Matilda insists, and the father finally gives up. To avoid shame, the Marquis decides to create a brilliant position for Julien in society. He obtains for him a patent of a hussar lieutenant in the name of Julien Sorel de La Verne. Julien goes to his regiment. His joy is endless - he dreams of a military career and his future son.
Suddenly he receives news from Paris: Matilda asks him to return immediately. When they meet, she hands him an envelope with Madame de Renal's letter. It turns out that her father turned to her with a request to provide some information about the former governor. Madame de Renal's letter is monstrous. She writes about Julien as a hypocrite and careerist, capable of any meanness, just to break out into the people. It is clear that M. de La Mole will never agree to his marriage to Matilda.
Without a word, Julien leaves Matilda, gets into the post carriage and rushes to the Verrière. There, in a gun shop, he buys a pistol, enters the Verrieres church, where Sunday worship is held, and shoots Madame de Renal twice.
Already in prison, he learns that Madame de Renal is not killed, but only wounded. He is happy and feels that now he can die in peace. Matilda follows Julien to Verrière. She uses all her connections, handing out money and promises in the hope of softening the sentence.
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On the day of judgment, the entire province flocks to Besançon. Julien is surprised to find that he inspires all these people with sincere pity. He wants to give up the last word, but something makes him rise. Julien does not ask the court for any mercy, because he understands that his main crime is that he, a commoner, rebelled against his pitiful lot.
His fate is decided - the court sentenced Julien to death. Madame de Renal comes to Julien's prison. She says that the unfortunate letter was composed by her confessor. Julien had never been so happy. He realizes that Madame de Renal is the only woman he is capable of loving.
On the day of the execution, he feels vigorous and courageous. Matilda de La Mole buries her lover's head with her own hands. And three days after Julien's death, Madame de Renal dies.