The Red and the Black | Study Guide


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The Red and the Black | Book 2, Chapters 6–10 | Summary



Chapter 6: A Matter of Pronunciation

Julien gets into a verbal altercation with a man in a café and asks for his address. The man throws cards in Julien's face and leaves. Julien intends to challenge him to a duel and asks a fencing partner to be his second. However, at the address they find M. de Beauvoisis, a diplomat who is unknown to Julien. When the pair leave, Julien spots the man who insulted him, the diplomat's coachman, and beats him. The diplomat now agrees to a duel, and he shoots Julien in the arm. After taking Julien home, M. de Beauvoisis makes inquiries about him. He then starts a rumor that Julien is the illegitimate son of one of the Marquis's "intimate friends," which elevates Julien's social standing. This allows Julien and M. de Beauvoisis to become friends.

Chapter 7: An Attack of Gout

Laid up for many months with gout, the Marquis grows close to Julien. Impressed with Julien's honesty, rectitude, and natural nobility, he develops two relationships with him: when Julien wears his usual black, he is an employee, but when he wears a blue jacket at his benefactor's request and, later, the Marquis's gift of a cross, Julien becomes the younger son of an aristocratic friend—and is treated as such. In this second role Julien meets M. de Valenod again. M. de Valenod is now a baron and has replaced M. de Rênal, now considered a liberal, as mayor. Through the Marquis's intervention, Julien gets his father the post of Director of the Poorhouse in Verrières.

Chapter 8: What Decoration Confers Distinction?

Julien is learning the ways of Parisian dandies, so he treats Mathilde with coldness when she returns to Paris. She finds Julien intriguing because he is not like the other men she knows, so she asks her brother to invite him to a fancy ball. When he arrives she attempts to get his attention but cannot seem to keep it, even though her appearance is ravishing and she has a hypnotic effect on the other gentlemen.

Chapter 9: The Ball

Julien is deep in conversation with Comte Altamira, who will be executed if extradited to his own country. Altamira has fought for liberty, and Mathilde makes pretexts to follow Julien and Altamira around as they passionately discuss politics. The next day Julien is distracted from his work because of the previous night's conversation, and when Mathilde, dressed entirely in black, interrupts him and asks what he's thinking, he answers honestly with a series of seditious questions about the state and the nobility. He scares her, and she leaves abruptly.

Chapter 10: Queen Marguerite

Julien asks one of the regular diners why Mathilde is dressed in black and learns she mourns an ancient relative, Boniface de la Mole, on April 30. The lover of Queen Marguerite of Navarre, Boniface was beheaded by Catherine de Medici for trying to save the king of Navarre and his court when Catherine treacherously turned on them during their visit to France. Legend had it Marguerite retrieved Boniface's head and buried it herself. Mathilde continues to pursue a friendship with Julien and finally gets his attention with her intellect. She treats him respectfully, and Julien begins to think she might have feelings for him. He decides to conquer her.


One of Julien's first acts in aping a gentleman is to fight a duel with a coachman who has insulted him. The pretensions of the upper classes are laid bare when the diplomat M. de Beauvoisis inquires about Julien and must justify agreeing to the duel by pretending Julien is a member of the nobility, albeit illegitimate. Afterward, the rumor also gives him cover for a friendship. The same convoluted logic applies when the Marquis is laid up with gout and decides he wants to have friendly relations with Julien outside of their work relationship. Only by having Julien don a blue coat can he symbolically equalize their relations and treat Julien as the son of one of his friends. Blue symbolizes the aristocracy, as does the cross the Marquis gives Julien for the same purpose. The Cordon Bleu—or blue ribbon, referred to as the blue riband several times in the novel—is the highest order of chivalry awarded by the French king. The Marquis temporarily promotes Julien to his own class when Julien dons the blue jacket. While the necessity for this symbolic transformation highlights the rigidity of the class system and the importance of physical appearance in enforcing it, it also shows the Marquis is someone who has real nobility because he can recognize it in someone else, as he does in Julien. The oddities of the class system are further demonstrated by M. de Valenod's promotion to baron and mayor and M. de Rênal's demotion to a liberal; they have switched places in the political universe.

Mathilde begins to find Julien intriguing because—unlike the other men around her—he does not automatically pay her homage; instead, he treats her with coldness and reserve. Mathilde is an intelligent woman with a penchant for transgressing social and moral boundaries. Julien dislikes her because she is haughty, but also because she is physically the epitome of an aristocrat, with her pale features and queenly gestures. She is exactly what he may not have. On the other hand, Mathilde is drawn to Julien because he represents a taboo, a man who is beneath her and to whom she should not give the time of day. But she also sees he is intelligent and passionate, and he is not boring.

In Chapter 10 Mathilde's obsession with her ancestor, Boniface de la Mole, and his lover, Queen Marguerite of Navarre, comes to light. In a sort of personal cult of worship, she dons black on April 30, the day Boniface was executed in 1574, to mourn her hero's death and the queen's tragedy. Julien finds out about this from the Academician. He also learns Mathilde's full name is Mathilde-Marguerite. She identifies with the intrepid queen who buried her lover's head, and she longs for men with the heroic bravery she imagines Boniface possessed. As with Julien, the narrator's portrayal of Mathilde reveals her limitations even while she thinks of herself as being better than those around her. Her obsession with her family's lurid past makes her seem melodramatic and fanciful, not—as she thinks—poetic and heroic.

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