Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Stendhal: Le Rouge et le Noir (novel)

Le Rouge et le Noir; chronique du XIXe siècle / Punainen ja musta; kronikka XIX vuosisadalta. FR 1830. Finnish translation by J.A. Hollo / WSOY 1956 [the first edition of this translation. A previous translation into Finnish by Joel Lehtonen dates from 1929.]. This translation feels right, but I'm not able to compare it with the original text:

I read this novel for the first time and I found remarkable:
- the sense of history, the turbulence of the decades after the Revolution, the great movements of the recent generations all still valid during the Restoration
- the sense of society: Le Rouge et le Noir has been called the first class-conscious novel - after the Revolution, the aristocracy and the clerical estate are still mighty during the Restoration, but they are constantly afraid - the bourgeoisie has the financial power but not yet the social and political status which it deserves - Julien Sorel is the poor but talented provincial son of a sawyer
- the theme of corruption: the society is run by networks - corruption is rampant - influence is not based on justice and fairness
- the clerical world is also run by power games and evil machinations, including the power fight between the Jesuits and the Jansenists - clerical titles can be bought - the Church is also profoundly corrupt
- Julien Sorel as an anti-hero: he is not idealized by Stendhal - he has fatal weaknesses such as vanity and envy - his clerical career is pure opportunism - he knows the Bible by heart but does not believe in God - there is a line of development from Rastignac to Julien Sorel to Frédéric Moreau
- Le Rouge et le Noir is also a Bildungsroman of disillusionment - a deeply bitter one - and tragic, because Julien has both greatness and fatal weaknesses
- Julien Sorel is deeply loved by Madame de Rênal and Mathilde de Mole, but he is hardly worthy of either - both women have more strength of character than he does
- the story of the passion seems incredible to a modern reader, but it is full of surprises and elements of psychological credibility
- there is a line of development from Madame de Rênal to Emma Bovary to Anna Karenina - in her audacity of passion Madame de Rênal is close to Anna Karenina
- the style of Stendhal is concise, ironic, empathizing and yet with a fine sense of distance - in Stendhal's age, the writer was not afraid of blunt statements and generalizations - the writer's frankly subjective and partial statements I don't find inhibiting but on the contrary they provoke the reader to take a stand himself
- considering the current popularity of fantasy, I find historical novels like this as amazing and much more exciting, because the past is a foreign country

I have not seen film adaptations of Le Rouge et le Noir, the most essential of which is:
Le Rouge et le Noir / Punaista ja mustaa. FR/IT 1954. D: Claude Autant-Lara. SC: Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, Claude Autant-Lara. DP: Michael Kelber (Eastmancolor). CAST: Gérard Philipe (Julien Sorel), Danielle Darrieux (Madame de Rênal), Antonella Lualdi (Mathilde de Mole). 185 min

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