Scarlet and Black by Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle)

Le Rouge et le Noir, to use the original French title, is a heavily psychological novel written in the nineteenth century and set in the years following the fall of Napoleon.

The protagonist, Julien Sorel, is a very bookish child who is rejected by his family and the plot follows his ascent to the highest levels of Parisian public life. The religious politics of the time loom large.

I found it heavy going, to be honest. Julien, for example, self-dramatizes all the time – he is the “star of his own movie”, as we might say today. And while this is interesting, it gets a bit repetitive.

Having said that, it is clear that this was a pretty innovative approach and it must have influenced Flaubert, since the resentments and pettiness of provincial life, and the constant yearning for heroic escape, are echoed in Madame Bovary.

An interesting book but the time it takes to read it probably outweighs the reward, at least in translation.


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