Stendhal's The Red and the Black

Stendhal's The Red and the Black

Stendhal's The Red and the Black

Stendhal's The Red and the Black


A collection of critical essays on Stendhal's novel "The Red and the Black" arranged in chronological order of publication.

French novelist Stendhal, pseudonym for Henri Beyle (1783-1842), is recognized for his two masterpieces, Le Rouge et le noir (The Red and the Black) (1830) and La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma) (1839). Published after the triumph of the bourgeoisie in the Revolution of 1830, Le Rouge et le noir reflects the black days of retraction after the red days of revolution and Napoleon. During these times, its hero, the provincial arrivist Julien Sorel, energetically plots his career, and before he is guillotined for murdering Madame de Renal he ascends from tutor to seminarist and from secretary to officer. Besides its political reverberations as a "chronicle of 1830," Le Rouge et le noir portrays with acute psychological insight a diverse range of experience and passionate characters.

Stendhal's The Red and the Black is one of over 100 volumes in the "Modern Critical Interpretations" series, edited and introduced by Harold Bloom and published by Chelsea House. Taken together, these volumes represent a comprehensive collection of the best current criticism of the most widely read poems, novels, stories, and dramas of the Western World.


Nietzsche saluted Stendhal as “this strange Epicurean and man of interrogation, the last great psychologist of France.” Yet Stendhal is both less and more than a psychologist, even in the sense of moral psychologist intended by Nietzsche. If we are unhappy because we are vain, which seems true enough, then the insight seems related to the conviction that our sorrows come to us because we are restless, and cannot sit at our desks. To assimilate Stendhal to Pascal would be tasteless, yet to determine the pragmatic difference between them is a complex labor. Pascal, to me, is the authentic nihilist; Stendhal is something else. Call that Julien Sorel, who attracts us without compelling our liking. Or do we like him? Robert M. Adams coolly concludes that:

Whether you like Julien Sorel, and for what parts of his behavior,
depends, then, in some measure, on who you think you are and
what conspiracies or complicities your imagination allows you
to join, in the course of reading the book.

That may be giving Stendhal the best of it, since the reader’s fundamental right, as critic, is to ask the writer “who do you think you are, anyway?” the reversal is shrewd, whether Stendhal’s or Adams’s, since we do not expect the author to be quite as aggressive as ourselves. Stendhal brazenly excels us, and Julien is more his surrogate than many have allowed. We admire Julien for the range of his imagination, and are a little estranged by his extraordinary (if intermittent) ability to switch his affections by acts of will. He is, of course, designedly a little Napoleon, and if one is not Hazlitt or Stendhal that may not move one to affection. But the Napoleonic is only one wave or movement in him, and Stendhal is one of that myriad of nineteenth-century writers of genius who fracture the self. a more crucial movement is the Byronic, and here Adams is very perceptive indeed, marvelously so:

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