The Red and the Black | Study Guide

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The Red and the Black | Book 2, Chapters 31–35 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 31: Make Her Afraid

When Julien comes from the opera he is overjoyed, kissing the silly letters that helped him win Mathilde back. He believes he must now keep her in state of uncertainty. When she looks for him in the library in the morning, he embraces her but still reins in his emotions. Although their relationship has resumed, he continues writing to Madame de Fervaques.

Chapter 32: The Tiger

Mathilde is now in love for the first time, the narrator says. She acts submissively with Julien but even more haughty with everyone else and finally tells Julien she is pregnant. Julien drops his guard and treats Mathilde more tenderly but feels pity for the Marquis. He also fears the pregnancy will separate them. In a letter to her father, Mathilde takes the blame for seducing Julien and hopes he may give them a little money, but she is ready to leave with Julien as he makes his way somewhere else in the world.

Chapter 33: The Torments of Weakness

Julien is summoned by the furious father, who calls him a monster. When Julien invites his benefactor to kill him, the Marquis tells him to go to the devil. Julien seeks out M. Pirard and says he is willing to submit to death or exile but is concerned about the fate of his child. Mathilde puts pressure on her father to accept Julien, while M. Pirard counsels the Marquis to agree to a public marriage, which will cause less scandal in the long run.

Chapter 34: A Man of Intelligence

The Marquis lets a month go by and then sends a letter to his daughter giving the couple money and estates while simultaneously disowning them. Mathilde writes back begging her father to sanction a wedding. Instead he gives Julien a title and a lieutenant's commission; he must leave immediately to join his regiment in Strasbourg. Mathilde continues to press for a marriage, but her father warns they had better obey him. Julien is overjoyed with his commission, and he thinks his "romance is at an end—and credit to me alone."

Chapter 35: A Storm

Pirard gives Julien money from the Marquis, though supposedly it is from Julien's "real father." Some will go to Julien's true father to keep him quiet. The Jesuit prefect Frilair will agree to acknowledge Julien's "high birth" in exchange for the Marquis's dropping the lawsuit against him. Julien begins to wonder if he is really the son of "some grand seigneur" exiled by Napoleon.

After acculturating himself to the army, he is urgently called home by Mathilde, who tells him her father will not sanction a marriage. Julien had provided Madame de Rênal as a character reference, but she has responded by denouncing him as a hypocritical seducer. Julien immediately leaves for Verrières for a showdown with Madame de Rênal. He finds her in the church and shoots at her twice, hitting her with the second bullet.

Analysis

When Mathilde tells Julien she is pregnant, he accepts his responsibility without question and expresses his desire to make a life with her and their child, although he fears this may not be possible once her father finds out. When the Marquis does confront Julien, he calls him a monster, but the narrator's characterization shows that this oversimplifies matters. Julien is selfish and deceptive, but he is not ruthless. He feels both compassion and genuine remorse for wounding the Marquis de la Mole, who dreamed of making a brilliant match for his daughter. Julien is conscientious enough to take responsibility for what he has done, but nonetheless, things would have been much better if Julien had considered the loyalty he owed the Marquis de la Mole before launching into an affair with his daughter.

Because of pressure from his daughter, and because he has genuine good feelings for Julien, the Marquis decides to assist the couple in making a life together. There is some benefit for him as well; he wishes to avoid scandal as much as possible. Moreover, if he doesn't cooperate with his daughter, she is not above making a spectacle of herself—as she proves later—simply for the joy of indulging in melodrama and proving she will not be commanded by convention. When Julien receives his new title and commission, for which he is overjoyed, begins to believe in the fabrication created by the Marquis. Interestingly, the narrator does not correct Julien's perceptions, which makes the reader wonder if perhaps Julien is not the natural son of old Sorel. This question is also raised in Part 2, Chapter 7, when the Marquis alludes to Julien's birth, and the narrator—who is so often obtrusive—does nothing to clear up whether the reader should take this idea seriously. Regardless of the actual truth, the narration skillfully shows the ability of public announcements and appearances to change the way both characters and reader view "reality." Julien's embarrassment at his humble origins is a fundamental premise of the book, but now, even that is called into question.

In any case Julien has a new name and is, in one sense, reborn. Julien himself says his story ends in Chapter 34. It's a happy ending, in which he receives everything he has strived for—and everything he disdained in his class enemies. But then fate intervenes to change that story, and Julien proves to be his own worst enemy. He gives the Marquis his former lover's name as a reference, and she becomes the instrument of his downfall. To make matters worse, he decides he must kill her because she has lied about his character—thus privileging his unrealistic ideas about honor and glory above happiness and success. Julien's story makes a full circle, and he is back in the church where he started, shedding real blood.

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