Summary and Analysis
Part 1: Chapter 24
Julien visits the military installation in Besançon before reporting to the seminary. He stops at a cafe, and his fancy is taken by the barmaid, Armanda, who recognizes his obvious embarrassment at the strangeness of this large city. The arrival of one of her lovers nearly incites Julien to challenge him to a duel, but on the insistence of Armanda, Julien leaves the cafe. He stops at an inn to leave his clothes in the safekeeping of the landlady, then courageously starts out for the seminary.
This transitional chapter introduces Julien to the city of Besançon, where the next stage of his education will take place. The cafe scene will reappear in the second part of the novel in a slightly different form but will produce the same effect. Here, the young, inexperienced country boy ventures into a big city cafe. Stendhal creates for him an almost quixotic episode, where Julien may give heroic proportions to a trivial incident: Drawing from his experience as lover, Julien places himself abruptly in the role of Don Juan with Armanda, and his sudden declaration of love to the barmaid is reminiscent of a previous one, pronounced with less sureness but with as much hypocrisy to Mme. de Rênal.
After his brief and audacious visit to the fortress overlooking Besançon, where he has again evoked an imaginary military career, it is here in a cafe that he almost spontaneously gives form to his aggressiveness in an imagined amorous adventure. The arrival of Armanda's lover is but a part of this mock-heroic adventure, immediately awakening in Julien the sense of honor of the knight errant, who, without the intervention of Armanda, would have challenged his supposed "rival." The scenes preliminary to Julien's arrival at the seminary should recall to the reader Julien's visit to the church prior to his entrance at the home of the Rênals. In both, Julien is play-acting, rehearsing, in a sense, for his big scene. He musters up his courage, measures it, or rather "takes its temperature," to assure himself in advance that he will not fall short of the ideal performance required in a new and challenging situation.
Note that the "glance" is the basis of the real and imagined adventure that Stendhal narrates, and he gives Julien almost magical powers of self-extrication. Communication by the "glance" seems to be one of the secretive codes designed to protect the integrity of the superior being.
As was predicted by the priest Chélan, Julien's merit will endanger him because of the envy it inspires in others. Therefore, it is not surprising that Julien seeks protection in women from his enemies. In this short chapter, the two incidents present women as a defense against the world. Lover (Armanda) and Mother (the landlady) are irresistibly attracted to Julien and would protect him.
Even though his method is improvisational, Stendhal relies on "preparation" for the development of plot: This interlude will have served also as the basis of a subsequent plot devised by Julien's enemies to destroy him in the seminary.