The Red and the Black | Study Guide

Stendhal

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The Red and the Black | Inconsistencies in the Text

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Use of Epigraphs

All but the final four chapters are titled and include quotations meant to "augment the sensation" of the reader, according to Roger Gard, who translated the version of the novel on which this guide is based. There are also short epigraphs on the title pages for Book 1 and Book 2. Many of the epigraphs have incorrect attribution. In some cases Stendhal reworded quotations, and in others he made up quotations and attributed them to a variety of people, showing a desire more to create his own appearance of thematic unity rather than to tie the text into an existing literary tradition. A minority of epigraphs are real and have correct attribution.

The epigraph on the title page of Book 1 is falsely attributed to the French Revolutionary Georges Danton, says translator Gard. "Truth, the bitter truth," it says, likely referencing the notion that it is hard to accept people's hypocrisy and double dealing. The story has many hypocrites, but even the so-called hero is a hypocrite.

Book 2 carries this epigraph: "She's not pretty, she's not wearing rouge," and falsely attributes it to Sainte-Beuve, says Gard. This epigraph perhaps reflects the idea that society cares only for fabricated appearances. The artificial is deemed beautiful, while naturalness, or truth, is neither beautiful nor valued.

Inexact Timeline

Stendhal subtitles his novel A Chronicle of 1830 and A Chronicle of the Nineteenth Century, which are contradictory in the context of trying to understand when the story is supposed to take place. Stendhal includes an "Editor's Notice" in which he claims the novel was "about to appear when the great events of July intervened"—by which he means the July Revolution of 1830.

In fact he wrote the novel between 1829 and 1830 and published it at the end of 1830, but he claims the editor has "cause to believe that the ensuing pages were written in 1827." His "Editor's Notice" contradicts the truth as well as one of the subtitles. Stendhal also includes several references to historical events that occur after 1827, so his "Editor's Notice" is also be false on that account. Finally, the references to historical events do not follow the chronology of a story that appears to take place over more than three years. The references sometimes refer to events that would have occurred either earlier or later in the story if it took place over a three-year period before the July Revolution of 1830.

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