Summary and Analysis
Julien is admitted to the presence of the rector, Father Pirard, by an extremely ugly porter. This impression of ugliness and the fright given by the sternness of Pirard cause Julien to faint. Pirard agrees to give him a full scholarship in recognition of the recommendation from his dear friend Chélan. Julien obviously impresses Pirard favorably by his knowledge of scripture and Latin and by the clarity and insight of his answers. Julien is taken to his cell, where he falls into a deep sleep. His first meeting with Pirard has given him to believe that the seminary is taken seriously by the students. Julien fails miserably in his attempt to succeed by brilliant achievement. He also has erred by requesting Pirard as his confessor instead of the rector's Jesuit enemy. Julien learns that to distinguish himself and gain acceptance among his fellows, he must appear stupid, materialistic, and docile.
The Jesuit Castanède has found Armanda's address in Julien's luggage and has denounced him to Pirard. Confronted by the rector, Julien lies successfully and exonerates himself. It is the baseness, vulgarity, and ugliness of his adversaries — his fellow seminarians — that cause him to flinch and become discouraged in his struggle. His attempts to win them are without success. The description of the ideal awaiting the young priests as preached by Father Castanède revolts Julien: It consists of being well-fed, of vegetating in a parish surrounded by all the physical comforts. His eloquence proves to be another reason for alienation from his fellows, and he must often defend himself against physical attacks.
Verrières was protected by walls, figuratively speaking, that Julien succeeded in climbing; now he enters another "prison," the seminary, which he must also conquer. In direct contrast to his imagined conquest of Armanda in the cafe, Julien's interview with Pirard is a confrontation that overwhelms and terrifies him. His sensitive nature shuts out ugliness by rendering him unconscious. Again Stendhal omits Julien's brilliant, concise answers to Pirard's interrogation, although we learn that Julien's answers evoke Pirard's admiration for him.
The keenness of Stendhal's psychological observation is noted in the brief statement occurring at the end of the interview, which casts light on Julien's frame of mind in retrospect: "Julien looked down and saw his trunk directly in front of him; he had been looking at it for three hours without recognizing it." Moments of intense emotional strain prevent us from evaluating objectively a situation except in retrospect.
The prison-like nature of the seminary is emphasized by fleeting views of the outside world, caught by Julien through a window, both during the grueling interview with Pirard and later in his cell. This glimpse of "high places" — mountains, in this instance — serves to reassure Julien and is inspirational to him in this crisis.
Just as Julien blundered in his attempt to seduce Mme. de Rênal, he will blunder in his attempt to succeed in the seminary. The cafe scene served to mark his progress as a seducer, evidence that he had gained experience and wisdom from the experiences in Verrières. Here, however, is a new field of experience, and his evaluation of the interview with Pirard gives him a false sense of security, causing him to fail miserably in his first few weeks in the seminary. He thought that his usual hypocritical mask was the one to assume, but he soon discovers that he has assumed the wrong mask. It is not excellence that is required of the young, would-be priests but rather submission, obedience, and docility. Even in the seminary, Julien is an outsider, a pariah, because of his superior nature. He has great difficulty trying to perfect a mask of stupidity.
Note, however, his progress in the second interview with Pirard. Stendhal admits the reader into a complicity with Julien in the following way: Julien cleverly utilizes the two incidents that had occurred during his first day in Besançon, taking from each what he needs to substantiate his lie to Pirard. Stendhal does not make any comment on this operation. Julien utilizes, then, the potential of Stendhal's logic. Julien's self-imposed campaign of austerity has borne fruits, however, since in not leaving the seminary, he has avoided a worse fate. He has succeeded, again, in spite of himself.