The Red and the Black | Study Guide

Stendhal

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The Red and the Black | Book 1, Chapters 26–30 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 26: The World, or What the Rich Don't Have

Following his habitual pattern, Julien views everyone at the seminary as an enemy to be conquered. He chooses Abbé Pirard as his confessor instead of the under-director, Abbé Castanède, who is the director's enemy, aligned with the Jesuits. Abbé Pirard is suspected of Jansenism, a religious view associated with opposing absolute monarchy and unlimited papal power. While a minority of seminarians have a genuine calling, the rest are peasants who have chosen the Church to earn a comfortable living. They are like Julien in their hypocrisy but do not match his intelligence and sensibilities. Although Julien attempts to fit in, everyone dislikes him for his extreme acts of piety and obvious pride and intelligence.

Chapter 27: First Experience of Life

The seminarians following Abbé Castanède continue to ostracize Julien. The abbé teaches them to revere the Restoration government as "legitimate authority by virtue of its being delegated by the Vicar of God on earth." The novices dream of cushy posts in parish towns and nickname Julien "Martin Luther," since his logic and pride look like heresy to them.

Chapter 28: A Procession

Abbé Chas-Bernard takes a liking to Julien and requests his help to prepare the cathedral for a special festival. Julien climbs a ladder and walks along a worm-eaten frame 40 feet above the ground to decorate the center of the canopy above the altar. During the festival they stay behind to guard the cathedral's expensive ornaments after the crowd files out. In the empty cathedral Julien sees Madame de Rênal with her friend Madame Derville. He runs to Madame de Rênal, catching her as she faints. Madame Derville angrily orders him to get away; the priest finds Julien shortly after, shaken and overcome with emotion from seeing his lover.

Chapter 29: The First Forward Step

Abbé Pirard summons Julien to tell him he is leaving the seminary—being forced out by his enemies—and he appoints Julien as tutor in New and Old Testaments. Julien's peers begin treating him with respect because he has been promoted and they think he is wealthy, since his friend Fouqué has sent gifts of game to the seminary. Nonetheless, Julien receives low marks on his exams despite his brilliant performance because he is tricked into citing the Classical Roman authors, whom the Congregation examiners consider profane (see Context). The examiners are appointed by the Vicar-general de Frilair, Abbé Pirard's enemy. Since Julien is Abbé Pirard's protégé, he gets caught in the crossfire.

Julien receives a monetary gift of 500 francs, which he believes is from Madame de Rênal. In truth the money is from the Marquis de la Mole, Abbé Pirard's friend; the priest helped him in his lawsuit against the Vicar-general. Since Abbé Pirard won't take any money, the Marquis de la Mole decides to give a gift to his favorite pupil. The Marquis de la Mole also has arranged for Abbé Pirard to receive a lucrative post in a wealthy Paris parish.

When Abbé Pirard sends Julien with a letter to the bishop explaining the reason for his resignation, the bishop takes a liking to Julien and sends him back to the monastery with several volumes of the Roman author Tacitus, a bit of situational irony given that Julien was marked down on his exams for his knowledge of the Romans. This gift adds shine to Julien's new "halo" at the seminary.

Chapter 30: An Ambitious Man

The Marquis de la Mole offers Abbé Pirard an alternative post as his secretary; he declines but says Julien could easily fill the job. Before Julien accepts the post, he visits Fouqué and then returns to Verrières to see Madame de Rênal. She has become pious, and with the help of Abbé Chélan she has repented of her adultery and renounced her lover. Julien now learns she didn't send the money but did send him several letters, which he never received; they were intercepted by Abbé Pirard. Julien believes failing to seduce her one more time will be a disgrace that will "poison" his whole life; fortunately he does manage to seduce her. He hides in her room for another day until her husband gets suspicious a thief is lurking in the house, and Julien barely escapes from the estate.

Analysis

These chapters continue the theme of tyranny and hypocrisy, delivering an anticlerical condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church. In Restoration France, a lot of the power taken away from the clergy during the French Revolution was given back; not surprisingly, then, the clergy was strongly allied with the Ultras. Stendhal paints a picture of the Congregation, a network of Jesuit intriguers who conspire to keep the Ultras in power in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to the pope and the Church (see Context). Stendhal does allow for some good priests, whom he identifies as Jensenists, clergymen sympathetic to the poor and working classes and wary of the Ultras. These priests believe in the role of divine grace in salvation (see Context). Abbé Chélan and Abbé Pirard are Jensenists, and both aid Julien, while the Vicar-general Frilair and Abbé Castanède are Jesuits and hate Julien because he is Pirard's protégé.

It is worth noting that Julien is hardly alone in his desire to use the Church for social advancement. Most of the novices at the monastery are hypocrites like Julien, except they have much lower expectations and are simply looking for a comfortable berth with perhaps a little graft on the side. The powerful and wealthy Church inevitably draws those who are hoping to make a living, not meet a religious vocation.

Julien's progress through the monastery is loaded with dramatic irony. First, from one perspective he chooses the wrong confessor. If he wants to progress in the Church, the Jesuit Abbé Castanède is the right choice, but he wants to ingratiate himself with the director, so he chooses Abbé Pirard. Julien acts more pious than anyone else, and he is punished for his seeming devotion in a place purportedly devoted to God. He also is punished for being intelligent, logical, and proud, which seems heretical to his peers. The seminarians begin to respect Julien after his friend sends a gift of meat, which makes them think he is middle class. They also respect him more after the bishop notices him—although the bishop rewards him for the same reason Vicar-general Frilair punished him. He will now be able to lord it over them as a Bible tutor, which also earns their respect—and clearly shows their subservient mentality as members of the lower classes. As outlined by Nietzsche but demonstrated by Stendhal, the ressentiment of plebeians often manifests itself as devotion to the master class (see Context).

In another example of dramatic irony, the truly pious Abbé Pirard is forced out of his job by his enemies, and to put his prize student on the road to success in the Church, he puts him on the road to perdition by sending him into the household of the Marquis de la Mole. Finally Abbé Pirard attempts to separate Julien from his lover by withholding her letters, but the monetary gift to Julien from Abbé Pirard's benefactor, the Marquis de la Mole, is the impetus for Julien's last visit to Madame de Rênal before he departs for Paris. When he arrives at her window by dragging a ladder into her garden, he finds her reformed by her confessor and not willing to sin again. In his need to exercise his will to power, Julien overcomes all scruples and determines to seduce her one last time. His concern is for his victory, not the emotional suffering he might inflict on a woman he claims to love.

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