The Red and the Black | Study Guide

Stendhal

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The Red and the Black | Book 1, Chapters 11–15 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11: An Evening

In the evening Julien joins the family in the garden. Under cover of dark, he caresses Madame de Rênal's hand, feeling satisfaction to be secretly scorning his employer who is nearby. For her part, Madame de Rênal admits she is in love, and she is being carried away by the intensity of her passion. Comparing himself to Napoleon, Julien decides to demand a three-day leave to further display his power over his enemy, the mayor. When Madame de Rênal retires for bed, she is tortured by guilt over her adulterous thoughts and painfully thinks about how little the tutor loves her.

Chapter 12: A Journey

Having won his leave, Julien delays his departure the next morning so he can see Madame de Rênal. She finally comes into the garden but acts cold after a night of struggling with her conscience. Julien's pride is injured, and he becomes angry and distant in response, not telling her that he is about to leave. Traveling away from the Rênals to see his friend Fouqué, a lumber merchant, he feels free. Fouqué wants Julien to become his partner; he is sure to make a lot of money if he takes his prosperous friend up on his offer. But Julien has the notion he is destined to make a name for himself and so refuses.

Chapter 13: Open Work Stockings

Julien feels more at ease because of Fouqué's offer, although he is still smarting from being treated by Madame de Rênal as "a workman's son." He continues to have spiteful thoughts about conquering her; the narrator notes if she were more self-possessed she would have praised him and reassured his pride, which would have made him "pliant and amiable." Upon his return she asks him if he will be leaving for good, and he says he must, since he is destined for the priesthood but very much in love with her. When they separate she is transported but imagines their relationship will remain chaste.

Chapter 14: English Scissors

Madame Derville is aware her friend is in love, but she does not trust Julien and sees him as sly. Julien attempts to flirt with Madame de Rênal during a visit from the sub-prefect, by covering her foot with his, but she deftly covers up his clumsy attempt at seduction. Later he visits M. Chélan and finds him moving out of his house since he was fired for assisting the reformer Appert. Julien begins thinking perhaps the priesthood is not a smart career choice.

Chapter 15: The Cockcrow

In the garden that night, Julien tells Madame de Rênal he will come to her room at 2 a.m., to which she replies indignantly. Nevertheless he follows through, and after calling him a wretch, she succumbs after he "throw[s] himself at her feet and embrace[s] her knees." Although they have sex, he is so focused on playing the idealized role of a conqueror that he is unable to enjoy the encounter. When he leaves he reviews "all the details of his conduct."

Analysis

At first Julien's love for Madame de Rênal is what Stendhal describes in his treatise On Love as vanity love, which is the possessing of a fashionable woman. Caressing her hand secretly in the presence of her husband inflates his ego, since she is so far above him in class; it helps him get revenge on her husband as well, and proves his inherent superiority. Julien also bests M. de Rênal by demanding a three-day leave after he already gets a raise, further exercising his will to power. The mayor thinks Julien has been offered a position by his rival, M. de Valenod, which is why he gives into his demands.

Julien's sexual inexperience and thin skin cause him to misinterpret Madame de Rênal's coldness, since he has no ability to imagine what she might be suffering because of her intense feelings for him. He is clumsy in his attempts at seduction as well, but his presumption and courage serve him well, as he barges into her room in the middle of the night and accomplishes their first intimacy. What allows him to do so, however, is a genuine show of feeling. Madame de Rênal is moved by his tears, but he fails to realize that it is genuineness, rather than posturing, that earns him his victory. At the end of his encounter with Madame de Rênal, his concern is how well he played the role of a lover. In focusing so entirely on his self-image and excessive pride, Julien misses out on the rewards of pleasure and love.

Unlike Julien, Madame de Rênal is moved by what Stendhal calls the highest form of love: passion, which is not concerned with vanity nor social gain and goes beyond physical attraction. She is also naïve; as a straightforward person who is naturally disposed to kindness, she has little understanding of hypocrisy. On top of this, she has no prior experience with romantic love, and it seems doubtful she feels much sexual attraction for her two-dimensional husband. She perceives the depths of intellect and feeling in Julien's soul, even if he hides a good part of himself from her. She is by nature a passionate woman, so it is not surprising that he easily sparks a flame in her.

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