Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Stendhal, The Red and The Black

I have lost count of the many times I’ve picked up this book and read it from beginning to end. Yet every time it seems I find something new--something refreshing--in it.

What is the eternal allure of The Red and The Black?

By today’s standards the sex scenes are non-existent; imagine the main character spending hours, days, and nights debating whether to hold a woman's hand or not.
The action is also non-existent. No cloak and dagger adventures. Yet, the novel sizzles!

It must be the psychological aspect of the book. In this pre-Freudian novel, we can see the unconscious forces—libido, impulses, instincts, fixations, drives, obsessions, passions, and manias—at full throttle in the characters. But in particular we get a pretty good understanding of the incomparable and uncompromising Julien Sorel, the spoiled rich brat Mathilde de La Mole, and no less in importance: the naive and sexually inexperienced Mme. De Renal. The fatidic triangle.

But I must admit it is a novel of intrigue, an intrigue that doesn’t get resolved until the very end of the novel, with the gruesome death of a main character.

Given the time in which the story is set, the seduction scenes are more psychological than realistic. It is the high and the lows, the moodiness, the agreements and disagreements, the firmness and weaknesses of the trio that keeps the reader involved. Ah, something else: the pride. Pride is an essential ingredient and perhaps the most important propelling force in the characters’ psyches.

There’s also comic relief, much as in Shakespeare’s tragedies where one laughs at the jesters' jokes rather than cry at the sorrowful plight of the players. If you like the bizarre, you will also find it here.

The Red and The Black is a novel that will never go away, that will never get old, and that we will read and re-read over the years. What is the secret of it? It is impossible to tell. Eric Auerbach, a major critic, attempted to get to the bottom of it with his famous analysis entitled, “In the Hotel de la Mole” of his equally famous book: Mimesis—to no avail.

And that is just fine with me, so that generations to come will go on enjoying the reading without anyone spoiling it for them.

I do, however, have a theory as to the perennial allure of the novel: just as Don Quijote, Tarzan, Jay Gatsby, and Highly Golightly are prototypes, so is Julien Sorel. When an author invents a fictional prototype, the novel achieves immortality.
Woe be to the authors whose characters fall a notch below prototypes--oblivion awaits them!
The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:


Augustine, City of God
Austen J, Pride and Prejudice
Austen J, "Marriage Proposals and Me"
Austen J, Emma
Borges, The Aleph
C. Bronte, Jane Eyre
Burroughs E,Tarzan
Cervantes, Don Quijote
Chaucer, Wife of Bath
Coelho P,The Alchemist
Coyle H, They Are Soldiers
Dante, New Life
Dickens C, David Copperfield
Dostoevsky, Crime&Punishment
ConanDoyle,Hound of Baskervilles
Dubner S, Superfreakonomics

DuMaurier D, Rebecca
Ellis B. E. American Psycho
Fitzgerald S, Great Gatsby
Flaubert G, Madame Bovary
Fleming I,Doctor No
Freud S, Leonardo Da Vinci
Friedan B, Feminine Mystique
GarciaMarquez, Of Love & OtherDemons
Guerrero M,ThePoison Pill

Grass G, The Tin Drum
Harris T, Hannibal Rising
Heidegger M,House of Being
Ishiguro K, Remains of The Day
Johnson S,Rasselas
Kosinski J, The Painted Bird
Lee H,To Kill a Mockingbird
McBain Ed,Gutter and Grave
Murakami H,Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Nabokov V, Lolita
Meyer, S, Twilight
Ortega,Dehumanization of Art
Poe E A, Gordon Pym
Prose F, Reading Like a Writer
Rushdie S,Midnight Children
Sabatini R, Scaramouche
Spark M, Prime of Miss Brodie

Stendhal, Red and Black
Sterne L,Tristram Shandy
Stevenson R, Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde
Stoker B, Dracula
Thackeray W,History of Pendennis
Tolstoy L, Anna Karenina
Trollope A, Autobiography
Unamuno M, Tragic Sense of Life
Voltaire, Candide
Webb J, Fields of Fire
Wharton E, The House of Mirth
Woolf V, To The Lighhouse

The secrets of 'no-doze' prose:
Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers

Lindsey Vonn after winning the Downhill World ...
Image via Wikipedia

Lindsey Vonn

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