Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapters 5-7
After several months, Julien has made his services very valuable to M. de la Mole although, socially, he has fallen from favor in the household. He applies himself tirelessly to his work, and to escape the discouragement that his exile causes him to feel, he devotes his leisure time entirely to fencing and riding. Norbert is estranged from him, and Mme. de la Mole finds Julien's impetuosity and sensitivity repugnant to decorum.
Julien is offended by a rude individual in a cafe one day, and he immediately challenges the man to a duel. Going the following morning to the address indicated on the offender's card, Julien finds, to his surprise, that the Chevalier de Beauvoisis, whose name is on the card, is the master of the coachman who had offended Julien. Julien promptly punishes the coachman for his insolence, and the chevalier agrees to a duel. Julien is slightly wounded, but the new acquaintance soon becomes friendship. The chevalier is a model aristocrat whom Julien imitates in manners and attitude, accompanying him to the opera. In order to escape the ridicule that would result from public knowledge that he had dueled with a sawyer's son, the chevalier spreads the rumor that Julien is the natural son of a close friend of the Marquis de la Mole. The latter, upon hearing this rumor, is greatly amused.
Bedridden with gout, the Marquis de la Mole is reduced to the company of Julien during the absence of his family. The marquis discovers in Julien a man of ideas and of quick wit. The marquis makes Julien a gift of a blue coat, and when Julien visits him in the evenings wearing the garment, the marquis treats him as an equal. Julien introduces efficiency into the marquis' business affairs, and his innovations are so much appreciated that the marquis wants to reward him with a gift of money. This Julien declines, pretending that the gift would ruin the relationship with the man in blue since it is to that man and not to the man in black that it is made.
Recognizing the inborn nobility of Julien, the marquis devises a plan to confer upon him the cross of the Légion d'Honneur, which will constitute an exterior acknowledgment of Julien's inner nobility. He sends Julien to England, where he is introduced to various notables in the highest circles. Upon his return, Julien is told that when he wears his decoration, he will be, in the eyes of the marquis, the son of the Duc de Retz, a friend of the marquis. The decoration makes Julien more confident.
A visit is paid to Julien by Valenod, recently made a baron. Valenod has replaced Rênal as mayor of Verrières. Ironically, Valenod was the ultra candidate, and Rênal the candidate of the liberals. The marquis agrees to receive the mayor and intends even to encourage his political career. Benefiting from his more intimate relationship with the marquis, Julien succeeds in having his own father named director of the workhouse and Cholin named as director of the lottery. Julien learns later that his intervention has thwarted the candidacy of an honest man, M. Gros, who, Julien recognizes, really deserved and needed the appointment to the lottery post. This causes Julien some remorse, which is quickly stilled, however, by a rationalization that expediency sometimes brings about injustice.
These chapters constitute a further stage in the education of Julien, specifically as the protégé of M. de la Mole. Chapter 5 is preparatory to the subsequent development of the father-son relationship in that it points up Julien's success and failure: success as a prized secretary, failure as a social creature in this blasé aristocracy in which he moves.
Note again Stendhal's tenderly ironic treatment of his hero in the cafe scene. Stendhal will make a fool of Julien by exploiting his hero's basically contradictory nature, causing his impetuosity to play out another mock-heroic adventure. Julien is "unmasked" by a less glorious counterpart: the "gentleman" whom he challenges turns out to be a lackey, like himself. Typically, however, Stendhal takes care not to exploit the ridiculousness that would be inherent in such a situation. Stendhal permits himself to make light of Julien, delicately, but the reader may not take this liberty. The same restraint is apparent in the handling of the encounter with the chevalier. Instead of taking offense, the latter, another of the "happy few," befriends Julien and plays the role of fairy godfather.
Stendhal calls to our attention the resemblance between the two cafe scenes. He utilizes repeatedly the recurrence of similar situations at different points of the narration, and such a device is particularly effective in a novel describing the formation of an individual. An event that repeats itself calls our attention to the distance covered by the character. In this instance, we note that Julien's pride has not weakened but that he is now more highly placed on the social ladder.
The duel episode serves also to further the relationship between Julien and the marquis. The rumor of noble but illegitimate birth circulated by the chevalier "suggests" to the marquis, without his own awareness of it, the action he takes to confer a kind of nobility on Julien in Chapter 7. By the end of Chapter 6, the fatherly interest felt by the marquis in Julien has progressed to the point where the marquis wants actively to "form" his secretary. Hence, he stations Julien at the opera to study another spectacle, the impressive entry and departure of the aristocracy, in order that Julien may imitate their ways and rid himself of his remaining provincialisins.
Betraying his negligence in plot manipulation and preparation, Stendhal feels obliged, in Chapter 7, to justify the familiar tone in which the marquis has just addressed Julien at the end of the preceding chapter. Such an intervention Stendhal would no doubt justify by evoking his realistic pretention and his definition of the novel — he is not inventing, he is only reporting the truth, and this detail he had forgotten to mention. Stendhal indicates to the reader to what extent Julien has actually replaced Norbert as a worthy son for the marquis, both in the eyes of the latter and in those of Stendhal.
"Play acting" recurs as a theme in these chapters, and the deliberate insincerity that it implies is a necessary quality of the nobility to which Julien aspires. The marquis, another fairy godfather, intervenes as for Cinderella, outfitting Julien and casting him in a dual role. A truly noble soul is capable of effecting metamorphosis by will. Thus, the marquis is "magically" empowered to transform Julien into the gentleman in the blue coat by night and into the black-coated secretary by day.
That Julien is making progress is obvious by the fact that he surpasses his master's performance. By proudly refusing the well deserved gift, Julien intimates that the marquis is violating the rules he has established himself. This performance inspires the marquis to bring about the next transformation: Julien's diplomatic mission to London, which will serve as a pretext for a decoration. Julien's frequenting London's high society is the culminating phase in the stage of his formation related in these chapters.
Valenod's reappearance and his victory over Rênal serve to remind the reader of the changing fortunes on the political scene. Valenod's ascendancy had been predicted in Chapter 1 of Part II. Stendhal is careful to note that antipathy and rivalry still exist between Julien and Valenod. This fact will be utilized in the ultimate determination of Julien's fate.
The close of Chapter 7 reminds us that Julien's experiences have taken their toll on his principles and innocence. In short, he is being corrupted, but, fortunately, this change is reversible. In the incident in question, Julien has occasion only to rationalize his remorse. One cannot help but wonder which would have won out, expediency or principle, had Julien known earlier that Gros was also aspiring to the position in which Julien's intervention has established Cholin.