The Red and the Black By Stendhal Summary and Analysis Part 2: Chapters 24-28

Summary

Smitten by love, Julien is unable to amuse himself in Strasbourg. He encounters his London friend, the Russian Prince Korasov, who befriends and undertakes to cheer him. The prince advises Julien how to proceed in his love affair with Mathilde. He must resort to inspiring jealousy in the woman he loves by courting another. The prince gives Julien a series of love letters with directions as to how and when they are to be delivered to the lady. Julien intends to court Mme. de Fervaques, a beautiful widow of a marshal of bourgeois lineage, a prude who is influential in the Congregation. Julien agrees to the stratagem. At the same time, he turns down an offer made by Korasov for the hand of the latter's cousin, a match that would facilitate a glorious military career for Julien in Russia.


Upon returning to Paris, Julien asks advice of Altamira in his courting of Mme. de Fervaques. Altamira introduces him to Don Diego Bustos, who had unsuccessfully attempted to court this lady. From Bustos, Julien learns how to go about the conquest. At the Moles', Julien must exert much self-control to begin his campaign. Civil but not attentive to Mathilde, he seeks out Mme. de Fervaques and spends the evening in conversation with her. At the theater, his eyes remain fixed on Mme. de Fervaques. Upon seeing Julien again, Mathilde, who has sworn to forget him, to return to virtue, and to hasten her marriage to Croisenois, now reverses her position, seeing in Julien her real husband.

Mathilde is consternated by Julien's indifference for her. Mme. de la Mole now looks upon Julien more favorably since he seems to be interested in Mme. de Fervaques. Julien copies the first letter and delivers it, following the directions of the prince. During his evening conversations, Julien places himself in such a way that he can observe Mathilde without being seen. Mme. de Fervaques is quite favorably impressed with Julien, in whose eloquence, metaphysical bent, and mystical preoccupation she thinks she sees the making of a great churchman.

Two weeks and many letters later, Julien receives an invitation to dinner at the home of Mme. de Fervaques. Julien finds the dinner, the conversation, and the guests insipid. Tanbeau, his rival at the Hôtel de la Mole, encourages him in his conquest of Mme. de Fervaques.

One evening at the opera, Mme. de Fervaques intimates that whoever loves her must not love Napoleon. Julien interprets this as an avowal of a certain success in his campaign. Julien's carelessness in copying a letter almost causes Mme. de Fervaques to doubt his sincerity, but he succeeds in excusing the blunder. Mathilde is succumbing to his strategy. She admires his Machiavellianism in telling Mme. de Fervaques things he obviously does not believe. Mathilde's marriage with Croisenois is imminent, and Julien thinks again of suicide.

Analysis

These chapters relate the next stage in the love of Julien and Mathilde, in which Julien initiates action and painfully gains an ascendancy over Mathilde.

In the form of Korasov, another father-image reappears to take Julien in hand and teach him the art of seduction. Korasov sees Julien's problem immediately. It will be necessary to attract Mathilde's attention to himself away from herself. Julien must make Mathilde see him not as an ideal she has created but as he is. Korasov's offer to Julien should remind the reader of a similar one made by Fouqué in Part I. The identity of circumstances points up Julien's contrasting situations: In Verrières, he refused happiness because he was goaded by ambition; here, he refuses to satisfy that ambition, now silenced by a love of which he is the victim.

Julien is so much the victim of his love that he adopts the point of view of the woman who scorns him to deprecate himself pitilessly. This period of depression that Julien is experiencing Stendhal had analyzed in his treatise on love. Julien sees himself as the most abject of beings, as inferior to Korasov, and at fault for not being loved by the perfect Mathilde.

It is not by chance that Julien chooses Mme. de Fervaques as his instrument. He admits that her beautiful eyes remind him of those loving and passionate eyes of Mme. de Rênal. He longs unconsciously for that experience where he was loved.

Two more mentors are introduced to guide Julien. Altamira and Bustos provide Julien with the necessary information for a seduction. Note that Julien is hypocritical even with his friend Altamira, who is not advised of Julien's stratagem. Stendhal doubtless delights in the dissection of the prude. It is reminiscent of the seduction undertaken in Laclos' Liaisons Dangereuses by Valmont of his prudish victim, more sincere, however, in her religious principles than is Mme. de Fervaques. Stendhal's portrayal of the latter as somewhat of an imposter absolves Julien of any guilt, since she is not truly a victim.

The abrupt images betraying Julien's extreme sensibility are meant to convince the reader of the hero's great effort in playing his role. Julien is moved by the sight of the sofa and ladder in the true romantic tradition. Note, however, that the rapid narration and abrupt sentences betoken restraint and a refusal on the part of Stendhal to fall into the raptures and effusiveness of the hyperbole à la Chateaubriand. Julien remains the passive actor of the role carefully outlined by Korasov, acting as a sort of robot. Another note is inserted by Stendhal to show to what extent Julien's ambition is dead. The possibility that the marquis might be named as a minister would give Julien an opportunity to become a bishop. Such a possibility is very far from Julien's present aspiration.

Julien's return has sufficed to change the impetuous Mathilde's plans completely. Mathilde has rationalized her interpretation of virtue to justify her reversal in position She had decided to return to virtue, but now virtue means legitimizing her love for Julien through marriage: "He's my real husband," blurts out Mathilde.

Note Stendhal's "peeping Tom" tendency (which he has in common with Balzac). The privilege of the superior soul is that he may observe others observing him without their knowledge. Julien is protected by hat brims, his own and that of Mme. de Fervaques, as he observed Mathilde watching him.

Although his love at first incapacitates him for creative action, Julien nonetheless makes progress as an actor and conversationalist. Again, Stendhal states this fact without offering a demonstration of it. Profiting from his knowledge of Mathilde's character, Julien decides that she will admire him for uttering absurdities with eloquence.

The dinner at the home of Mme. de Fervaques is similar to the one Julien attended in Part I at the Valenods'. Both present Julien appearing in the enemy camp, and his refusal to take a stand politically is thereby underlined. In Verrières, Julien frequented the society of both liberal and monarchists; here, in spite of his Jansenistic mentor, Pirard, Julien is frequenting the Jesuit milieu. Julien experiences the same feeling of superiority at the two dinners. He had scorned the materialism and bad taste of the Valenods; here, he is disgusted by the pompousness of the guests and by the sterility of the conversation.

Stendhal again underlines Julien's lack of ambition by intimating how he could, were he so inclined, profit from his relationship with Mme. de Fervaques to have himself named a bishop. One aspect of the tragedy of Julien Sorel begins to become apparent. Ironically, he abandoned the tender love of Mme. de Rênal because of his insatiable ambition. He is now reaping the fruits of this ambition — or he could, but he no longer hears that voice — in favor of a love inferior to the one he abandoned.

There is another advantage to feigning a courtship other than the obvious purpose, which is to inspire jealousy in the real love object. If the victim responds, one may observe the mechanism of love and its progress objectively and with a cool head, hardly possible if one is really in love. Stendhal's own ambition was to achieve an impossible synthesis: to love passionately but without the enslavement of his will and mind.

Mathilde is being taken in by Julien's stratagem in a different way than he had anticipated, however. She admires his duplicity as she observes him courting Mme. de Fervaques. This means simply that she sees through the stratagem but that it is nonetheless successful because she is able to relegate this newly discovered quality of Julien to her idealization of him.

Julien's despair reaches its greatest intensity as he again contemplates suicide. Even if he succeeds in reviving Mathilde's love, he knows that it will not produce a lasting effect. He concludes by condemning himself: Why am I myself?

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