Sunday, July 08, 2012

Book a Week, July 8

The book for this next week is Stendhal's The Red and the Black. Marie-Henri Beyle was born in Grenoble, France, 1783, and died in Paris in 1842. He wrote under several pseudonyms, but 'Stendhal' is the one that has lasted, due to two works, The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma. I have a very nice Heritage Press edition (New York era) of The Red and the Black, which is, fittingly, all in red and black. It uses the C. K. Scott-Moncrieff translation of the French, so that's what we'll be going with.

Le Rouge et le Noir is a fictional account of events from 1826-1831, and is supposed be a satiricial novel, full of irony, dealing with the the contradictions, and thus hypocrisies (since hypocrisy is the way human beings deal with internalized contradictions), of France during the Bourbon restoration. The book was highly regarded by no less than Balzac, but it was a failure in its own day; Stendhal himself said that in writing and publishing it, he was gambling on finding an audience in 1935. Today it often makes lists of the greatest novels of all time, so Stendhal seems to have picked a good lottery ticket. I tend not to be a huge fan of very psychological novels, and satire is always hit and miss, so we'll see how well it goes; but this is a book I've been meaning to get around to for a very long time.


  1. Ah, you're reading my favorites, what with Nostromo and now this. Both I would place among my top 10 favorite novels. I hope you enjoy it.

    Also, I think Madame Bovary is a good read following The Red and the Black, even if you have (and I assume you have) read it. The two characters are so similar, and so different, that they make for illuminating comparisons.

  2. That's an interesting idea; I've read Madame Bovary, but it has been a while, and while I haven't seen it in a while, I'm pretty sure I have it somewhere.

  3. I swear, you and I must attend the same library book sales. I have the exact edition sitting unread on my shelf, so I think I'll jump in with you.

    Was your copy of South Wind also from Heritage Press?

  4. Yes, it was. There are two different periods in the history of the press; South Wind was from the Connecticut period while The Red and the Black is from the New York period (in general the New York era versions have nicer illustrations and took fewer shortcuts in production).

    South Wind I think I got from a booksale or perhaps Half Price Books; The Red and the Black was on my grandfather's shelf.

  5. Aren't we severe upon the Americans, though? I was amused by this Stendhal quote about America (a country he never visited) in the introduction:

    The young people of both sexes, when winter comes, which in this country, as in Russia, is the gay seasons, go sleighing together day and night over the snow, often going quite gaily distances of fifteen or twenty miles, and without anyone to look after them. No inconvenience ever results from it.... I find no passions which give pleasure."

    I had the sudden, anachronistic image of Stendhal turning in disgust from a wholesome volume of Louisa May Alcott.

  6. I had missed that footnote; it is a bit sour, isn't it? I did notice, having read a couple chapters in, that he insults French small towns by saying they're just like the U.S., which is an exquisite example of the well-known French humility (you know, as in, "Ah, we French, who are we to judge? We're no better than Americans sometimes").


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