The Red and the Black | Study Guide

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The Red and the Black | Book 2, Chapters 1–5 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1: The Pleasures of the Countryside

On his way to his new post in Paris, Julien happens to ride in the mail coach with two liberal-leaning men discussing Napoleon. Once in Paris, Julien meets with his mentor, Abbé Pirard, who gives him some advice about working in the house of the Marquis de la Mole, aristocrats and Ultras. The priest continues to protect and guide him, and Julien is grateful and views him as a father.

Chapter 2: Entry into the World

The Marquis de la Mole at first thinks his new assistant is stupid because he makes a spelling error, but during dinner Julien demonstrates his knowledge of Latin and ability to think critically, sufficiently impressing the Marquis, his wife the Marquise, and the other dinner guests.

Chapter 3: First Steps

Mlle. Mathilde, the Marquis's daughter, surprises Julien in the library, where he works on her father's affairs. She has come to sneak out a book she is not supposed to read. Comte Norbert, her brother, comes at noon to invite Julien to ride with him. Julien is a rank beginner, and at dinner he impresses everyone by candidly relating how he fell off his horse.

Chapter 4: The Hôtel de la Mole

Julien attends the Marquise's salon, filled with hangers-on who seek patronage from the family. He is bored by the superficial conversation at dinner and after dinner; everyone avoids politics or any subject of weight. When Julien is invited to sit with Mathilde and a group of her young friends, he finds out they play a sophisticated game of making fun of their parents' guests—some of them rich and powerful aristocrats.

Chapter 5: Sensitivity, and a Pious Lady

Julien advances in his job and is given more responsibility. Abbé Pirard introduces him to some Jansenist societies, and he is surprised to find "stern and pious men who had no thought of money," since his idea of religion has so far been linked with hypocrisy. He is particularly astounded by Comte Altamira, a deeply religious but passionately liberal man. Although he's doing well, Julien feels like a stranger in Paris and remains hypersensitive about looking ridiculous. He continues to practice horsemanship and takes up marksmanship and fencing.

Analysis

Julien has come to love his mentor, Abbé Pirard, and even considers him a father figure. Abbé Pirard is attempting to smooth the way for Julien in unfamiliar territory, but perhaps he would have served Julien better by not throwing him into the lion's mouth of Ultra society; this setting only provides a more sophisticated venue in which to learn, practice, and perfect hypocritical behavior. Just when his mentorship may be doing Julien some good, Abbé Pirard hands Julien off to his third benefactor, one who will do a great deal to help Julien advance in the world but very little to facilitate his moral advancement. It is noteworthy that Julien's response when he encounters piety and authenticity in religious men, he is impressed, but not enough to change his own course of action.

When Julien attends Madame Marquise de la Mole's salon—the after-dinner society party in which the rich entertain their friends and sycophants—he is introduced to the refined cruelty of the Marquis's children and their friends—in which they denigrate everyone who is not part of their set. Considering any topic of real interest is off limits, the conversation inevitably degrades into gossip among bored aristocrats. Julien fears making a fool of himself, but he rightly intuits honesty will get him further than an attempt to put on airs or pretend to know more than he does. At the same time he begins to educate himself in areas that will put him on more of an even footing with the aristocrats.

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