The Red and the Black | Study Guide

Stendhal

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The Red and the Black | Book 1, Chapters 6–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 6: Ennui

Madame de Rênal worries the tutor will be harsh with her sons, but seeing Julien allays her fears. She notices Julien's beauty and asks him not to hurt her children. He first notices her beautiful clothes and then her beauty, bursting out with an honest speech about his youth and inexperience. He kisses her hand in a show of bravado, promising never to strike the children. Julien is introduced to the mayor, who immediately takes him to get some proper attire. When Julien returns, he at first feels awkward in his new clothes, but he soon composes himself and impresses everyone with a showy display of Latin.

Chapter 7: Elective Affinities

Julien is an excellent tutor, and the Rênal children adore him, although he cares nothing about them. He feels hatred for the people he works for and resents his inferior social position. Julien's brothers see him walking in a wood one day and brutally beat him. Madame de Rênal is developing tender feelings for Julien despite his angry aloofness. He seems to have a "nobility of soul" missing in other men. Julien convinces M. de Rênal to purchase a subscription to the bookseller's library for the sake of his children's education, even though the bookseller is a liberal. Madame de Rênal attempts to draw Julien out, but he remains quiet and awkward.

Chapter 8: Minor Events

The lady's maid Élisa has fallen in love with Julien, and since she has just received a small inheritance, she hopes to marry him. He rejects her, however, since he is bound for the priesthood. Curé Chélan warns him he does not have a true vocation; despite himself, Julien is moved by the priest's concern. Meanwhile Madame de Rênal begins to realize she is in love with the tutor. In the spring the family moves to a château in Vergy, and Julien relaxes away from the town and begins to converse with Madame de Rênal and her visiting cousin, Madame Derville.

Chapter 9: A Rural Evening

Since Julien accidentally touched Madame de Rênal 's hand the day before, which she drew back, he now feels honor bound to conquer her reluctance even though he is not actually interested in her. Finally, while sitting with Madame Derville and Madame de Rênal , he catches hold of the latter's hand, and she does not resist. The next day Julien stays in his room through late morning, and the mayor, lately arrived, harshly reprimands him for not attending his duties. When Julien learns M. de Rênal is restuffing the mattresses, he begs Madame de Rênal to retrieve a portrait in a box, hidden in his mattress, and begs her not to look at it. She thinks this must be a portrait of a lover, but in fact, it is one of Napoleon. Since Julien has been pretending to be a Royalist, he will lose his place if his object of veneration is discovered.

Chapter 10: A Great Heart and a Little Fortune

Stewing about the way M. de Rênal has treated him, Julien expresses his anger and threatens to quit. He expects an apology, but instead M. de Rênal gives him a big raise, thinking Julien has received an offer from his rival, M. de Valenod. Julien stalks off, not understanding why M. de Rênal is so keen to keep him. Julien feels both hatred for M. de Rênal and a sense of triumph—he has won both Madame de Rênal's affections and a raise.

Analysis

When Julien and Madame de Rênal first meet, they share a mutual appreciation of each other's beauty, although Julien is first impressed that a well-to-do woman dressed in beautiful clothes deigns to address him so respectfully; this both awes and intimidates him. He impulsively kisses her hand and is transported by his "contact with garments so different from those he had been used to," even acting a little foolish when he returns with M. de Rênal in his new suit of clothes to begin his duties. His giddiness is bad enough that he feels a need to retire to his room to compose himself, but he also has a certain amount of confidence, and when he comes out he impresses everyone with his command of Latin by reciting portions of the New Testament. This young upstart with no belief in God or the Church hypocritically uses religious texts to establish his place in the Rênal household.

An important theme in the novel is the will to power as a driving force behind human action. Stendhal lived before philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche but prefigured his ideas about will to power. Nietzsche defined the phrase as the inherent human desire to conquer and dominate and make one's mark on the world. In Nietzsche's view, the thwarted power of the slavish masses turns into ressentiment—an extreme version of resentment. Ressentiment turns into feelings of hatred and envy, but sometimes conversely exhibits itself as slavish fawning over one's "betters."

Julien Sorel is a poster boy for ressentiment. He disguises himself in a cloak of piety but intends to use the Church only to get ahead in life. He feels nothing but resentment and hatred of the upper classes—though he is far too proud for slavish fawning. In another time and place Julien might have become a Marxist revolutionary; he is disgusted by M. de Valenod when he comes to dinner, scornfully thinking about how Valenod has profited from administering poor relief. Julien has sympathy for the poor, but at the same time he is driven only by self-interest and a yearning for greatness. Napoleon for him is a symbol of the noble man who fully exercises his will to power in the world, and Julien takes him as a role model.

Unlike Napoleon, however, he must take an indirect route to success, which requires him to show respect for his supposed betters and to maintain his mask of hypocrisy. Not only does he pretend to be pious, but he also hides his veneration of Napoleon.

Julien's sense of honor and what he owes himself are manifested in haughtiness and pride, not in loftiness of spirit. He will not settle for marrying a servant with a meager inheritance, nor will he stand for the disrespect he feels from M. de Rênal. His will to power manifests itself in his showdown with M. de Rênal as well as his sense that it is his "duty" to make sure Madame de Rênal does not withdraw her hand from him when he touches it—the idea seems to be that he must prove the force of his will, even for something he doesn't really want. But Julien is complicated: He is also moved by the priest's concern for his lack of vocation. Later he also will be moved by Madame de Rênal's genuine love for him.

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