The Red and the Black | Study Guide

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The Red and the Black | Book 2, Chapters 26–30 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 26: Love in the Mind

Julien proceeds with his seduction almost mechanically; he begins copying Korasoff's love letters in his own hand and delivering them to Madame de Fervaques's porter with a melancholy air. The first several love letters are no more than dull treatises on pious subjects. Mathilde has noticed Julien is paying attention to a rival.

Chapter 27: The Finest Places in the Church

After he has sent many letters, Julien finally gets an invitation to dinner and spends a dull evening listening to a lot of "bombast." Abbé Pirard has heard of Julien's new friendship and is concerned because Madame de Fervaques's salon is "Jesuitical."

Chapter 28: Manon Lescaut

In Madame de Fervaques's opera box, Julien hypocritically praises an opera; she scolds him for liking a work she considers immoral and warns him about being a Bonapartist. That night he copies a letter without paying attention and forgets to change the English locations to French ones; when Madame de Fervaques asks him about it, he makes a phony excuse.

Chapter 29: Ennui

Madame de Fervaques has begun writing letters of her own, which Julien doesn't read. Mathilde finally breaks down and accosts Julien in the library, claiming she is his bride and his behavior is appalling. Julien comforts her but remains reserved and distant. When she opens his drawer in a fury, she is surprised to see several unopened letters, evidence he does not care for Madame de Fervaques. Mathilde begs Julien to love her, even if he also despises her; then she faints at his feet.

Chapter 30: A Box at the Opéra Bouffe

Mathilde continues to show remorse for her "overweening pride," while Julien struggles to remain as impassive as possible. He pretends to love Madame de Fervaques a little but then asks Mathilde how she can guarantee she will not change her mind again about loving him. At the opera that evening he finds himself dissolving in tears, seemingly over the story. He also sees Mathilde in her box, and she seems to be crying.

Analysis

Julien's halfhearted seduction of Madame de Fervaques in Chapters 26–28 is comical: He has no real interest in her, and she develops a lukewarm attachment to him at best, at one point thinking if she helps get him a post as Vicar-general—a priestly office—she will not need to fear gossip about associating herself with someone of a lower class. The emptiness of upper-class interpersonal interactions is on display in this comedy. Both characters want to carry out the masquerade of sending letters and—in Madame de Fervaques's case—of having a love affair, but neither seems to have much energy or appetite for the enterprise. Madame de Fervaques is spending a lot of time with Julien, but she never wonders why his letters do not match the man. Nor does she get suspicious when one of his letters refers to English towns when it is supposedly about their courtship in France, or when his letters fail to reference hers. It is also comical that M. Pirard is worried about Julien's spiritual well-being, since Madame de Fervaques is in the Jesuit camp; Julien has no interest in any religious camp, but M. Pirard has not yet figured that out.

Mathilde had begun to watch the seduction of a rival with more than a little interest; soon she can no longer restrain herself and confronts Julien, reminding him she is his "wife." She understands what the unopened letters mean, and she is ready to abase herself even more by confessing she still wants Julien, even if he despises her. On some level she must realize that she is being manipulated. But clearly she enjoys the drama. She only feels love when her partner dominates her. For his part Julien continues to assert his mastery after she confesses her love yet again, only because he doesn't want to lose her.

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