Book review entries

December 30, 2004

The Red and the Black

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I finally want to get this book review thing started-let's see how long I'll think it an enjoyable thing to do and stick with it.
The Red and the Black, published in 1830. Well. I can't believe how long it took me to get through that novel. What has happened to my readings skills, one Middlemarch-sized novel a day, if necessary? Somehow I didn't find "Le Rouge et le noir" as gripping as some other 19th century novel, which very probably is due to the embarrassing fact that I don't know a thing about post-napoleonic France - quite a disadvantage, considering the historical dimension of that novel. Probably it isn't the best idea ever to read an English translation of a French novel either. But then, considering the deterioration of my French...Speaking of translations: interestingly enough, one of the English editions is called "The Red and the Black, the other "Scarlet and Black", and not only the titles but the texts themselves vary considerably the one from the other. I haven't studied both texts and the French original (yet?) but maybe that would be an interesting thing to look at-maybe not, maybe I am just being a bit fussy. However, according to my dictionary ("Oxford Advanced Learner's", but maybe some native speaker of English would like to comment on this), Scarlet means "bright red", which is more than just red, if you see what I mean. Also, I've got the impression that the colour Scarlet is even more likely to have something dodgy about it or rather is more likely to refer to something dodgy than just plain red, but I wouldn't be too sure about that bit- here again, can anyone help?
What do the colours stand for anyway? I am not too sure about this. Does _red _ or scarlet stand for Julien's "republican conviction", and does black refer to his "priesthood", as some critics suggest? The use of the word Scarlet (bright red) would then put an even stronger emphasis on the republican ideas in the novel - or Julien's republican ideas? I somehow cannot agree with the latter. To my mind, Julien is just an over-ambitious ruthless hypocrite, but the fact that he admires Napoleon because Napoleon, the "self-made man", made it to rise over his station in life and become the most powerful man in France and that Julien tries to follow that sort of career does not necessarily mean that he is a conscious republican in the narrow sense of the word-for him, it could be any political system, he doesn't care, the only concept he is interested in is power. What about red or _bright red _ characterizing the glorious and bright napoleonic past and black the grim reality of the hypocritical society Julien finds himself entangled in at present? I like that idea. Maybe I even do like the novel after all- I am especially impressed by the representation of Mme de Rênal and Mathilde, the two (very contrasting) women in the novel who, although one might feel that they are a bit of "cliché" in the beginning gradually emerge psychologically and become round characters. Good job, Stendhy :-)

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