Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapters 29-32
Mme. de Fervaques is beginning to respond and finally answers Julien's letters. Ultimately, she is writing him a letter daily, which Julien doesn't open and answers with the letters from Korasov. Mathilde, finding the present state of affairs unbearable, encounters Julien one day in the library. She reproaches him from having neglected her, his wife, then collapses in tears. Julien initiates no action in the way of response. Mathilde then reproaches herself for having forgotten her pride, and finding Mme. de Fervaques' letters to Julien all unopened, she is beside herself with rage, insults him, then confessing her love, begs for mercy, and faints at his feet. Julien has triumphed.
Mathilde asks Julien if Mme. de Fervaques has shown him proof of her love. Julien answers no, indirectly and diplomatically. He demands guarantees from Mathilde that she will not continue this cruel game with him. She has nothing but the "intensity of her love and her unhappiness if he no longer loves her." Julien withdraws respectfully, requesting time to reflect. Mathilde has found happiness in renouncing her pride. Julien feels obligated to appear in Mme. de Fervaques' box at the opera. The latter mistakenly believes that the tears in Julien's eyes are shed for her. Julien catches sight of Mathilde in another box, weeping.
Going to her box, Julien hears Mathilde murmur tearfully "guarantees." Giving himself over to the expansive joy of his love in the solitude of his room, Julien hits upon a new stratagem to perpetuate Mathilde's love: He must frighten her. The next day, she offers to elope with him. He rejects the offer, reminding her that this mood would soon pass. Walking in the garden with Mathilde, Julien confesses how he used to watch for her there, but he then denies immediately the truth of this avowal. He continues to write to Mme. de Fervaques despite Mathilde's disapproval.
Mathilde is now truly in love. She acts recklessly, but Julien maintains caution. She announces triumphantly, to Julien's consternation, that she is pregnant and that this is the guarantee which he demanded. She insists on informing her father but defers to Julien's view that it would be better to delay in writing the letter. In her letter, Mathilde assumes all blame and expresses the hope that her father will forgive both of them. She announces her intention of marrying Julien, and she suggests that their future situation will depend upon how M. de la Mole receives this news.
These chapters narrate the victory that Julien wins over Mathilde as his stratagem succeeds. It is here that the Cornelian nature of their love is most fully exemplified: They are nearest when farthest apart. Julien can force an avowal from Mathilde only by refusing to respond in any way to her successive anger, tears, scorn, then tenderness. Note that Julien does not utter a word in this interview. He must not betray his extreme joy, and they seem condemned to love each other separately.
This scene in Chapter 29 is the exact antithesis of a normal love scene. Instead of mutual tenderness and intimacy leading to a reciprocal avowal, there is a progression in hostility and silence leading to an avowal of defeat and submission. Mathilde's initial eruption is spontaneous — -she reproaches Julien for having neglected her. Her next reaction is equally spontaneous but results from the first — she has humiliated herself and weeps tears of shame. Julien proves that he has progressed in controlling his sensibility by treating her with impassive coldness. His lack of response intensifies her shame to the point that she explodes in anger. Opening the drawer and finding the letters unopened, Mathilde next resorts, in her uncontrollable rage, to insults. Instantly repenting, however, she avows her love and faints. Julien can only enjoy his love as a triumph when his victim is reduced to unconsciousness as an object. This scene no doubt inspired Proust in his demonstration of the impossibility of possessing another through love. Stendhal's portrayal of Mathilde in this scene is an excellent example of the author's unique character presentation. The reader seems to witness at first hand a process of becoming that is simultaneous with the character's acts. It has been said that the words as Stendhal uses them do more than they say. Mathilde faints because she is one of those superior beings whose emotional makeup is so intense that beyond a certain point, it shuts out reality. Julien reacted similarly in his initial interview with Pirard.
Note that Mme. de Fervaques remains hypocritical, even toward herself. She does not admit to herself that she is beginning to love Julien, and since her pride would suffer by addressing letters to him, she is reduced to requesting that he give her self-addressed envelopes. There is a faint glimpse of the role played by Mme. de Rênal as confidante to Elise; however, Stendhal chooses not to exploit it. Mme. de Fervaques confides in Mathilde and asks her advice on how to deal with Julien.
Stendhal utilizes chapter division to isolate and put into relief a scene, or part of a scene, as is evidenced by the artificial chapter division between 29 and 30. The latter in fact continues the previous scene, but the dramatic effect inherent in 29 would not have been otherwise achieved. Chapter 30 rounds out Julien's victory. He continues to exert incomparable self-control to the point of hypocritically telling Mathilde that he loves Mme. de Fervaques. Finally, he comes to the conscious awareness of the necessity of maintaining a distance in order to continue to be loved by Mathilde. The reader has long since been aware of this fact.
The short scene that concludes Chapter 30 represents a different angle of vision from which to see the situation between Julien and Mathilde. They appear at the opera separately, yet in their separateness they are similarly affected. Both are reduced to tears; both are enjoying their love vicariously by association with the spectacle itself. Julien is permitted to maintain the superiority of the unobserved observer.
The glance that the eyes bestow is a means of communication between the elect, believes Stendhal. Thus, he gives much importance to the role of Julien's eyes in his adventures. In Chapter 31, Julien hides his eyes as he sits near Mathilde at the opera lest they betray his true feelings.
Note in Stendhal's intervention to express approval of Julien's progress the use of the present tense and "may." These are intended to convince the reader of the veracity of the narrative and is a much abused device to which eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novelists resort. The result is the complicity so vehemently denounced by the "new French novelists": The omniscient novelist would pass off fiction as truth; and in this complicity, the public agrees to pretend that what it is reading is indeed fact. It might be argued that Stendhal in particular needs to establish such a complicity since his practice of withholding proof of his hero's superiority might alienate the reader.
Stendhal prefers the garden as a setting for amorous adventures. Julien's affair with Mme. de Rênal began and progressed in the garden. The garden scene in Chapter 31 evokes Julien's solitary anguish as he watched for Mathilde when he thought he wasn't loved. It is also the setting of the reversal of a previous meeting between them: Mathilde tortured Julien to maintain her ascendancy by telling him of her past loves; now, Julien, momentarily giving way to an expression of his "past" love for her, uses the same stratagem to maintain his present supremacy over Mathilde. He brutally denies the veracity of the words he has just spoken. Julien is testing Mathilde to ascertain to what degree his unchecked sincerity has dampened her love. His own "guarantee" consists of continuing to write the letters. He realizes that he must keep Mathilde in constant doubt as to whether he loves her.
Chapter 32 presents at once the culmination of their conflict, the transformation of Mathilde's love, and it puts into motion the subject matter to be fully developed in the next few chapters.
Circumstances somewhat beyond Julien's control seem to give a new direction to their relationship. Things are getting out of hand for Julien. Mathilde has accepted him as her master, it is true. Her proud nature requires that she continue the struggle elsewhere, however. First, by her reckless, almost promiscuous conduct with a social inferior, she flouts respectability. Mathilde's pregnancy is the beginning of the end for Julien. For Mathilde, it is the renewal in a different form of her dream of heroism and martyrdom. Her duty, she informs Julien, is to inform her father of this turn of events, and joyfully, she sees this heroic act as a way of proving her merit in Julien's eyes and as a way to compete with him in bravery.
Julien has succeeded in convincing Mathilde that her love for him is stronger than his for her. This satisfies Mathilde, giving her a kind of superiority over him. The letter to her father, her "best friend," is certainly consistent with Mathilde's character. Love is for her so intimately associated with the infliction of pain on herself and others that she logically turns to the person she loves best after Julien to initiate a new conflict. A "great soul" requires that others of the elect participate in a kind of ritualistic sacrifice. Fabrice in The Charterhouse of Parma has a similar demanding relationship with the other elect in that novel.
The next three chapters recount a struggle of wills between Mathilde and M. de la Mole.