Summary and Analysis
As Julien's ardor cools, he is able to reflect on Mathilde's attitude toward him, and he begins to see her in a new light. The academician tells Julien the story of Boniface de la Mole, ancestor of Mathilde, who was beheaded in the Place de Grève defending his friends, and whose lover was the Queen Marguerite. The latter heroically retrieved Boniface's head and lovingly buried it. Mathilde reveres this ancestor and wears mourning on the anniversary of his death. This knowledge evokes Julien's admiration for Mathilde, and in subsequent conversations with her in the garden, he finds that she is intelligent and charming. Finding himself treated kindly by Mathilde, Julien wonders whether she loves him. Then his suspicious nature sees a plot being perpetrated by Mathilde and her brother to make him look ridiculous. Julien decides to seduce her, then to flee. He is tormented by the suspicion that she loves him. Mathilde, on the other hand, has arrived at the discovery that she must be in love with Julien.
Mathilde praises Julien in the presence of her brother, Caylus, and Croisenois, and, to their surprise, ridicules them in Julien's defense. She attributes their condemnation of Julien to the jealousy they must feel for a man of genius. One evening, Julien hears his name mentioned in an argument between Mathilde and her brother, and when he joins them, silence falls, and Caylus, Croisenois, and de Luz treat him coldly.
Julien discovers immediately how to have a successful relationship with Mathilde. He must remain cool and never permit her momentary sympathy to lull him into complete confidence. He notices that their conversations seem to begin as a duel, and he realizes that, in order to command her respect, thus her admiration, he must maintain a certain distance between them. Later, as their relationship becomes more involved, Julien will forget this discovery momentarily. His ultimate success with Mathilde will depend upon his rediscovery and utilization of this strategy.
Julien is still master of himself. He suspects that Mathilde loves him, but he is not the victim of any passion for her. Here reawakens the peasant's distrust and suspicion. Julien's fear of ridicule (a trait of Stendhal's heroes) conflicts with his growing admiration for Mathilde, and the resulting decision to seduce her indicates the victory of his suspicious nature. According to Stendhal's theory of love, some assurance and encouragement that one is loved are necessary before one's own feelings progress in the crystallization process.
Chapter 11 is an exploration of Mathilde's character and presents the culmination of the various preoccupations she has had since Chapter 8. Stendhal describes typical incidents that illustrate her pride, the command she has over others, her boredom with the ordinary; and he continues the self-analysis she made at the ball. Mathilde arrives at the discovery that she must be in love with Julien and is overjoyed at this prospect. In reality, she is in love with the idea of being in love. Hers is a love in the Cornelian sense: it depends upon her intellectual approval of it, and it is necessary that the object of the love prove himself worthy of it. She projects its future course: "I've already shown boldness and greatness of heart by daring to fall in love with a man so far below me in social position, I wonder if he'll continue to be worthy of me. At the first sign of weakness I see in him, I'll abandon him."
Chapter 12 is but the continuation of the preceding in that Mathilde continues to subject her love for Julien to cold intellectual analysis. She rationalizes it, justifies it, and revels in it. Here for the first time, Mathilde verbalizes the association between Julien and herself and Boniface and Marguerite, an association she has unconsciously forged since Chapter 8.
Mathilde has arrived at that stage in crystallization in which every virtue and perfection is attributed to the object once the realization of love has come to awareness. She sees Julien as a superior man who despises others, and that is why she doesn't despise him. Doubtless, she defends Julien with greater vigor because of the overwhelming disgust that her brother and suitors inspire in her, as the epitome of the commonplace. Even Norbert's warning that Julien is a future revolutionary who would see them to the guillotine is simply another reason for Mathilde to love him. What does worry her, however, is the possibility that Julien does not love her. At any rate, Mathilde has escaped her boredom by deliberating about this decision to indulge in a great passion.
Julien still wavers between his doubts and hopes concerning Mathilde's intentions. In this respect, Julien would seem to be experiencing a variation of the crystallization process, although Stendhal's modesty prevents him from showing Julien as a victim of this emotion.