The Red and the Black is a profound and witty book about the rise of a poor, handsome and intellectually gifted, young provincial into the salons of High Society in Paris.
Handsome and ambitious, Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his humble peasant origins and make something of his life-by adopting the code of hypocrisy by which his society operates. Julien ultimately commits a crime-out of passion, principle, or insanity-that will bring about his downfall. The Red and the Black is a lively, satirical picture of French Restoration society after Waterloo, riddled with corruption, greed, and ennui. The complex, sympathetic portrayal of Julien, the cold exploiter whose Machiavellian campaign is undercut by his own emotions, makes him Stendhal's most brilliant and human creation-and one of the greatest characters in European literature.
I really enjoyed this book. Unlike many reviewers, I feel the book does transcend time. American people and culture today, computers and all, are a lot like those in Stendhal's 19th century France.
The main characters strike me as real, and quite complex. Julien is a typical adolescent/ young adult: Idealistic, searching and unsure of himself. To me, it is amazing to what how the world interacts with and alters his self-image. Mathilde is equally interesting. She reminds me of a flighty alternative girl, looking for a dream of simmering romance. And MME de Renal is a wonderful, believable woman, falling in love late in life, victim of the missing husband syndrome.
Like people today, Stedhal's characters are a bundle of contradictions. Is Julien a villain, an angel, a self-serving climber or a man truly in love, searching for his higher self? Aloof or loveable? Is MME de Renal a devout, moral patroness, devoted to her family, or the vilest of adulators, ready to turn her back on duty for the simmer of love? Is Mathilde submissive, or arrogant and dominant?
The answer to all questions is yes. We are all divided.
Be honest with yourself for a minute. Aren't people sometimes cruel, and sometimes kind; Sometimes, honest, sometimes mildly deceitful, telling white lies, and sometimes bold-faced liars? Since Stendhal is faithful to this, and does not give us character in black and white, he has produced a masterpiece.