The Red and the Black | Study Guide


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The Red and the Black | Book 2, Chapters 41–45 | Summary



Chapter 41: The Trial

On the day of the trial, Mathilde gives the Vicar-general a letter from the all-powerful bishop requesting Julien's acquittal, and he reassures her the verdict is a foregone conclusion, since M. de Valenod is in his pocket, and the rest of the jurors will follow him. The proceedings seem to be going his way until Julien decides to address the jury. "I do not have the honor to belong to your class" he says. He pays homage to Madame de Rênal, saying she was "like a mother" to him, and reiterates that his crime was premeditated. But he accuses them of wanting to punish him for being a peasant who had the nerve to defy class expectations. He notes that there are none of his class on the jury, but only "indignant bourgeois." Later M. de Valenod, the jury foreman, reads out a unanimous verdict of "guilty of murder with premeditation," which requires the death penalty. Julien thinks in three days he will know about "the Great Perhaps" and muses that M. de Valenod was happy to get his revenge on him for their previous rivalry.

Chapter 42

Julien realizes he did love Madame de Rênal but treated her terribly, sacrificing "modest virtue" to "that which glitters." Mathilde wants Julien to appeal, but he refuses. When his lawyer comes in and tries to change his mind, he refuses again but finds himself feeling "more of warmth towards the lawyer than he did towards [Mathilde]."

Chapter 43

Madame de Rênal has finally come to visit him, and he tells her he has never loved anyone but her. She explains she was forced to write the letter by her confessor, and she and Julien forgive each other and weep together: "Never in his whole life had Julien had a moment to compare with this." She is still pious, but she allows Julien to cover her with kisses. The two make a pact: He will appeal the verdict if she promises not to kill herself.

Chapter 44

Mathilde is suffering because she knows of Madame de Rênal's recent visit, but Julien wants to be alone and asks her to go away. The next day his father visits, and Julien tells him he will give his brothers 1,000 francs each and leave the rest to Sorel. His father tries to press him for more, telling him he should, as a good Christian, pay for the cost of his food and upbringing. "So there is the love of a father!" Julien thinks. Alone he thinks about his "powerful idea of duty, which was like "the trunk of a sturdy tree" against which he leaned and never wavered.

Chapter 45

Julien wants to act honorably toward Mathilde, but he can't send Madame de Rênal away. Crosenois has been killed in a duel, fought over Mathilde's honor. Despite her husband's prohibitions, Madame de Rênal returns to Julien's cell to spend his last few days with him. Julien goes bravely to his death. That night, Fouqué is watching over the corpse, which he will bury in an anonymous cave the next morning, when Mathilde bursts in. She takes Julien's head and carries it to his place of burial, burying it with her own hands after the ceremony. Madame de Rênal keeps her promise to Julien and does not kill herself, but she dies anyway three days later. Mathilde has Julien's cave decorated with marble carvings from Italy.


In Chapter 41 Julien puts the final nail in his proverbial coffin. Perhaps he had a good chance of winning his case—the narrator chooses not to weigh in on this. But Julien ruins those chances when he berates the jury for condemning him for being a working-class upstart and for parading their bourgeois hypocrisy before their eyes. In the end, despite his recent change of heart, he must satisfy his pride and voice his ressentiment. In Chapter 42 he experiences some measure of self-realization; he calls his conduct toward his first lover atrocious and acknowledges he sacrificed virtue to ambition.

Because of this realization Julien can spend his remaining time with Madame de Rênal free of the games, power plays, and one-upmanship that have characterized all his relationships up until now. He tolerates his father's visit in Chapter 43, even promising him and his brothers money, and he realizes he never had his father's love after Old Sorel tries to wriggle more money out of him to pay for his upbringing. This leads him to believe his devotion to duty has been a ruling idea in his life, perhaps as a substitute for his parents' love. Perhaps if Julien had experienced more love from his family he would have grown up to be more open to genuine kindness in others.

Julien happily spends his remaining time with Madame de Rênal. He cannot prevent Mathilde's suffering over his relationship with his first lover—this time he will not pretend. Still, Mathilde continues to visit him because she needs to act out the last bit of her drama with Julien to save her own self-esteem. At this point in the story, the reader remembers how young she is—this proud girl who has been brought so low has little experience of the world and lives through cliché and fantasy. In the end Mathilde fulfills her perverse need to reenact the story of Boniface and Marguerite, insisting on burying Julien's head herself. She has the last word on his resting place as well; while he wanted an anonymous cave, she decorates it, creating a monument to what has become, in her mind, a heroic love.

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