Course Hero. "The Red and the Black Study Guide." Course Hero. 14 June 2017. Web. 6 Aug. 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Red-and-the-Black/>.
Course Hero. (2017, June 14). The Red and the Black Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 6, 2020, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Red-and-the-Black/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "The Red and the Black Study Guide." June 14, 2017. Accessed August 6, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Red-and-the-Black/.
Course Hero, "The Red and the Black Study Guide," June 14, 2017, accessed August 6, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Red-and-the-Black/.
The narrator notes Mathilde derives her power not only from her social standing and beauty but also from her rapierlike wit in the salon. Moreover, she doesn't care a bit about what others think of her. She is bored by her rich, aristocratic, and predictable suitors and is drawn to Julien's pride in himself, disdain for others, and considerable intelligence. She is also piqued by their difference in social status. She believes she is in love with him and feels he is her equal—except in name and fortune.
Mathilde seizes on Julien's unconventionality and sees him as a heroic Boniface de la Mole and herself as a latter-day Marguerite. "He despises others, and because of that I do not despise him," she thinks. When she boasts about him to her friends and her brother, he warns her Julien "has far too much energy ... if the revolution were to begin again he would have us all guillotined." At first this frightens her, but then she is taken by the idea he is potentially another Danton—a revolutionary leader.
Julien is surprised by Mathilde's interest and thinks she plans to play a cruel joke at his expense. He is attracted to her beauty and noble standing. However, he remains suspicious of her motives and gives her the cold shoulder. She becomes more satirical with the young men who surround her, especially the Marquis de Croisenois, her prospective fiancé. Julien is getting ready to leave on business for the Marquis de la Mole, but Mathilde accosts him in private and insists he stay and then sends a love letter. Julien is overjoyed, but his primary thought is of his imagined triumph over the Marquis de Croisenois.
Mathilde is no longer bored; she is carried away by passion. She is both exhilarated and terrified at having written first to the lowly Julien. He maliciously sends down his trunk that night although he does not leave. She sends him another letter telling him to use the gardener's ladder to climb up to her window after midnight.
Julien debates whether he should take the risk of climbing a ladder in moonlight. He imagines Mathilde's male friends waiting in her room to capture him. Still, he thinks it would be cowardly to refuse her invitation. As a precaution, he has sent her letters concealed in a Bible along with his own sealed letter to his friend Fouqué with instructions to open his if something happens to him. Julien's letter provides details of Mathilde's flirtation.
The next chapters begin the story of the seduction of Julien by Mathilde—but it shapes up more like a war between two perverse individuals. These chapters introduce the theme of romantic love as part love and part hatred. Mathilde now has set her sights on Julien. His excessive pride and intelligence attract her, and in these two qualities they are well matched. Mathilde is supremely bored by the unvarying conversations she has with her friends and suitors, day after day, and a relationship with Julien presents an exciting challenge. Her brother tells her to be on her guard with Julien, who has the potential to become their executioner should another revolution take place, but this only makes him more interesting and exciting.
Julien now is attracted to Mathilde, even though he continues to dislike her. He is understandably suspicious of her motives, given the class chasm between them; even his hubris has some limits. When she first commands him not to leave, he is offended by her imperious tone, and when he gets her first letter, he feels like a peasant who is proud to receive the affections of a noblewoman. Further, he revels in besting the Marquis de Croisenois. His feelings for Mathilde have not risen above the level of vanity love; he still considers her an enemy, given the excessive precautions he takes in sending her original letters along with an explanation to his friend, in case something should happen to him. The narrator says Julien's face looks hideous when he makes these preparations; it is the face of someone "at war with society." In this instance society is personified by Mathilde. Since Mathilde has taken a great risk in sending him love letters, she challenges him to do the same by inviting him to climb up to her bedchamber in full moonlight. She judges him rightly. He will rise to the challenge because he must live up to his self-image as a Napoleonic hero; to do otherwise would be cowardly.