Context: Read this on my e-reader but forgot to take a pic of it in context before I deleted it!
Oh love, love, love! Just like Love in the Time of Cholera, this is book has absolutely nothing to do with it. It has plenty though to do with what people confuse love to be: infatuation and sex.
Julien Sorel is a man born out of time. He’s vain, intellectually gifted, ambitious and foolhardy in his attempts to realise this ambition. But the entire class structure of the re-established post-Revolutionary French class system stands in his way. Blind to social barriers, he ploughs on and, in a few short years, burns his candle to its base. In doing so, he lies, cheats, betrays, plots and puts on such a kaleidoscopic display of hypocrisy a chameleon would be proud. All along the way he drags two women from the same family and leads them on a merry dance from the heights of fashionable France to the depths of the dungeons of prison.
This has been described as satire, but it is by far the darkest satire I’ve ever read. Swift’s satire, which I love, is so light and airy. Cervantes lighter still. But Stendhal’s is depressing realistic. The church and clergy come off particularly badly. Mind you, he had plenty of material to work with there. Where I think Swift would have made a character a buffoon, Stendhal makes them archly demonic. I don’t think there was a single character in this long and well-populated novel that wasn’t repugnant to me in some way. Yuck!
Yet despite the depressing backdrop and vile characters, you’re able somehow to continue reading to the end. It’s a bit like a literary version of those police camera videos; you know it’s all horrifying and destroying people’s lives but you’re somehow captivated. Perhaps this is Stendhal’s genius? He’s painted my own heart as dark as those of his characters! Ha!
So, a few shivers later, I can lay this one aside for good…