The Red and the Black | Study Guide


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The Red and the Black | Book 1, Chapters 21–25 | Summary



Chapter 21: Dialogue with a Master

The mayor reflects on his wife's possible infidelity and realizes he has not one trusted friend to confide in, since he abandoned his former friends while climbing the social ladder. He thinks about how useful his wife is—he doesn't wish to lose her. He meets Madame de Rênal in the garden, and she hands him Julien's bogus letter, telling her husband M. de Valenod has had an eye on her for some time and even sent her flirtatious letters. She also plants the idea that Élisa carried gossip to M. de Valenod and may be having an affair with him. M. de Rênal insists on seeing the letters and barges into her room to retrieve them. She convinces him not to lower himself by confronting Valenod.

Chapter 22: Modes of Behavior in 1830

Julien reproaches himself for feeling sympathy for M. de Rênal. Following his wife's advice, the mayor has sent Julien back to the townhouse in Verrières. He visits M. Chélan in his new cramped quarters and puts up bookshelves for him. Now that Julien is in town, M. de Valenod invites him to dine, hoping to woo him away from the Rênals by offering him more money. Julien is disgusted by the materialistic and greedy M. de Valenod, who steals money from the poor, and his wife, who obsessively prattles about what various luxury items cost, and the guests at M. de Valenod's table, who are newly converted to the Ultra cause and are pompous, hypocritical, and shallow.

Chapter 23: The Frustrations of a Public Servant

The Rênals have returned to town and are keeping up appearances. The narrator muses on the effects of marriage, which "inevitably kills off love, even when love has preceded marriage." The jealous Élisa schemes to make her confession to M. Chélan so that she can tell him about Julien's affair. Everyone seems to know about the affair, anyway, and M. de Rênal gets another anonymous letter. M. Chélan orders Julien either to immediately leave for the seminary in Besançon or to go into the lumber trade with his friend Fouqué. Julien tells Madame de Rênal, and on their last night together, she is too devastated to enjoy their lovemaking, which Julien wrongly interprets as a loss of affection for him.

Chapter 24: A Capital

Though determined to pursue a career in the Church, Julien wistfully visits the military citadel when he first arrives in Besançon, a garrison town. Although he is a country bumpkin who doesn't know how to navigate a large city, he is befriended by a waitress at a tavern and then by hostess at a hotel, who agrees to hold onto his secular clothes since he has resumed the uniform of a priest.

Chapter 25: The Seminary

When he arrives at the seminary, Julien is initially intimidated by the seminary director, Pirard, who is a good friend of Chélan. Julien's mentor has arranged a scholarship for him, and Pirard is impressed with the young man's knowledge of Latin, although he faults his friend Chélan for not schooling him in the doctrines of the Church fathers. Julien is given his own room, and he collapses and falls asleep, exhausted by the three-hour interview with Pirard.


The relationship between tyranny and hypocrisy, an important theme in the novel, is evident in these chapters. First, the mayor experiences a kind of tyranny in adhering to the expectations of the class to which he has ascended by dropping his childhood friends, simply because they are not nobles. M. de Rênal even refused to help one of these friends when he got into trouble with the Congregation. The Congregation is a Jesuit-run organization active in imposing Ultra rule (see Context); in other words, it is another instrument of tyranny. M. de Rênal has no friend to turn to in his time of need because he has put money and power above all other considerations. Moreover, he is upset about his wife's infidelity not because he is jealous but because she is "useful" to his social and political aspirations. Part of this usefulness includes the fortune she will inherit from her aunt.

Madame de Rênal uses M. de Valenod's flirtations, which have come partially in the form of letters, to distract her husband and throw him off course. This is not hard because he has little interest in knowing the truth about his wife and Julien; it would only upset the apple cart of his life. Nonetheless, the continued gossip and Élisa's revelations to the priest are enough to send Julien out of town permanently. M. Chélan reminds Julien he can go into business with his friend Fouqué. In Chapter 12 the narrator makes it clear such a partnership would bring Julien prosperity, but his pride will not allow him to settle for the lumber trade. He hopes for great honor and believes he can make a brilliant career in the Church; given his vanity, nothing less will suffice. But his hypocrisy in pretending to have a religious vocation is hardly honorable, especially when another course of action is open to him.

Julien misinterprets his lover's unresponsiveness on their last night together, again because his prickly pride gets in the way of seeing what's in front of him: Madame de Rênal is devastated by their impending separation and can think of nothing else. However, Julien's egotism does not allow him to imagine what another might be feeling. He is sad when he leaves Verrières, but that doesn't stop him from flirting with the first woman he encounters when he gets to Besançon. He is a man who has turned hypocrisy into an art form, ringing the bell on the door of the seminary even while thinking he is about to enter an inescapable hell.

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