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franzosisch artikel (Interpretation und charakterisierung)

Stendhal - le rouge et le noir


1. Paris
2. France



Never was a young man so assured that he was shaping his own destiny, and so hugely mistaken (Hemmings). Discuss the character of Julien Sorel in the light of this statement.

Stendhals Julien Sorel, as presented to us in Le Rouge et le Noir, is a character of passionate ambition, of convinced determination, a burning desire to succeed, to become somebody in French society during the restoration. His unsatisfying existence as a carpenters son the provinces fuells his desire to faire fortune, that is, sortir de Verrières; il abhorrait sa patrie. Tout ce quil y voyait glaçait son imagination In the latter part of the novel, Julien appears to have accomplished his mission. Having been appointed secretary to the marquis de la Mole in Paris, Julien is given the nobles title of M. le chevalier Julien Sorel de la Vernaye by the marquis, in order that he may make a respectable marriage to the marquis daughter, Mathilde de la Mole, already pregnant by Julien. It seems that his mission has been accomplished, and that the destiny with which he has met is entirely the merit of his own calculations and endeavours:

Après tout;..mon roman est fini, et à moi seul tout le mérite Juliens story is, however, far from finished. Revealed by Madame de Renâl as a hypocrite whose only intentions are to seduce women of influence in order to advance his own social status, his hopes of marriage to Mathilde and a successful life are dashed. In an act of fury he shoots Madame de Renâl, albeit without inflicting a fatal wound, and is eventually executed.

Although Julien appears to come to some sort of new realisation, to the accomplishment of a new, previously unconsidered ambition: that of love, of true love to one woman, which would have been worth more than all the titles and fame and fortune his careful planning could have afforded him, his fate was far from the one he planned.

There would seem to be several reasons why Juliens plans to mould for himself a fine future take a fatal turn. One of the reasons would appear to lie in his inability to see things as they really are. His unhappy life with a father and brothers who evidently dislike, or even despise him, leads him to seek refuge in books, and look at life through the eyes of a novel of which he is the supreme hero. His affection towards his books appears even to override his human sentiments:

Il avait les larmes aux yeux, moins à cause de la douleur physique que pour la perte de son livre quil adorait

His particular affection for Napoléon and happy memories of the army surgeon who would recount fantastic stories of war and battle, leave him with a tendency to regard life as if it were some sort of military mission which must be planned, fought and won efficiently. With his self-encouragements of aux armes! and the challenges which he imposes on himself, seemingly trivial, yet promoted by Julien to some sort of military act of bravery, he imagines himself a soldier on the battlefield, prepared for victory. We recall at this point his attempts to overcome his timidity and take Madame de Renâls hand for the first time:

Serai-je aussi tremblant,et malheureux au premier duel qui me viendra?

Accomplishment of this mission is enough to promote him in his own mind to the rank of a true hero:

Il avait fait son devoir, et un devoir héroïque

This determination to overcome the emotional weaknesses (which he recognises himself through a regular and rigorous process of self-examination) and succeed in society at all costs, would not, perhaps, have met with such a disastrous and quite unplanned end, were Julien indeed truly the heroic character which he imagines, or would like to imagine, himself to be. But Julien is by no means a military hero, and the novel goes to no great lengths to hide this from the reader. His personality as revealed to us in Stendhals first depiction of Julien paints a picture of a very different character type. Physically he is very weak. He is un petit jeune homme , méprisé de tout le monde, comme un être faible and at first glance, appears to Madame de Renâl to be une jeune fille déguisée. His physique, far from being suited to the military battles he romanticises about, is clearly described as peu propre aux travaux de force . If anything, Julien appears to have been the losing party in any real physical battle in which he has ever taken part, and he seems no more likely to succeed on the military battlefield of his dreams than he has ever been in the jeux du dimanche, in which, we are reminded, il était toujours battu.

His underlying character indicates a more energetic and fiery streak. His grands yeux noirs, show a spark of feu of la haine la plus féroce. His drive and determination to be master over his own disposition (laffreux combat que le devoir livrait à la timidité indigne de sa lâcheté) and achieve a fixed ambition do not entirely escape from our admiration. We sympathise with his sacrifice of the rouge, the military career of which he truly dreams, and his acceptance that he must adopt the habit noir of the priesthood in order to ascend in a society whose order stacks all the odds against him. This streak of realism, his sacrifice of his longings in the pragmatic will to succeed, and his constant self-examination, could well have equipped him to shape his own destiny with absolute precision, but with Julien, his pragmatism is all too overshadowed by his excesses of emotion, his practical side is all too often interrupted by his romantic one. At times, Julien appears to examine himself with rose-coloured glasses, and frequently sees in his mirror a vision of Julien Sorel which bears little resemblance to the man himself.

Car le héros nest pas aussi calculateur quil le voudrait: malgré lui, son fond démotivité reparaît

While Julien fancies himself as a cold-hearted seducer, who seeks only to jouer le rôle dun homme accoutumé à subjuguer des femmes;;à être brillant avec les femmes , we remember his first seduction of Madame de Renâl is marred by the fact that he becomes quite overcome with emotion and fondit en larmes Far from seducing her cold-heartedly to satisfy his own pride, he becomes éperdument amoureux and dans un moment dabandon, il lui avoua même toutes ses inquiétudes . He shows a similar instability of conviction with Mathilde; convincing himself that je me montre froid.. avec elle;. plus elle me recherche , Mathilde has more power over his heart and mind than he would care to admit: il trouvait;. Mathilde maîtresse absolue de son bonheur comme de son imagination

As well as misjudging himself, he has a flawed view of the destiny he hopes to shape. He imagines that he will find fulfilment and happiness in the accomplishment of his aim to succeed in society. The reality of that success, is, however, less romantic. He wills himself to see magnificence in the Marquiss residence, when, in fact, Stendhal points out to us that the décor is le patrie du bâillement et du raisonnement triste . Similarly, the social circle to which he hopes to belong, appears at times to offer the same sort of restrictions as the one he left behind with his father and family in Verrières, as his admitted isolation in the de la Mole household shows:

Julien se sentit bientôt parfaitement isolé au milieu de cette famille

In this sense, his quest for advancement does not seem to advance him emotionally at all, and he remains perhaps as isolated as he was working for his father, never quite fitting in with his brothers and peers. Moreover, although he remains, at least outwardly convinced that he alone has shaped his destiny when at the height of his success, the reader knows better than to assume that this success can be attributed to those virtues to which Julien attributes it. Julien imagines he will succeed in high society by showing himself an equal of all those who populate it; but in the end he never quite loses his air innocent and, even to the Marquis, can only manage to be regarded an equal when wearing the blue coat gifted to him by the same man, at certain times and always in a sort of play-acting role. His success in society has been due to his ease and liveliness, which are those of a man with no pretensions to be anything other than what he is and with the good sense to behave accordingly

It is regrettable that Julien does not realise his true potential, and clings on, for the greater part of the novel, to the belief that to succeed means to accept that he must conceal himself with feigned hypocrisy and become a prisoner of his own role. Julien fails in his search for happiness because he appears to be constantly seeking the happiness of a fictitious, almost novel-like character, and tries to stifle any emotion which might not be in fitting with the Julien of his own ideas. His quest for victory only leads him into eternal battle, as much with his own soul as with society.

It would be exaggerated to assume that Julien Sorel plays no role in the shaping of destiny. It is by his own good sense and pragmatic contemplation of the world that he pursues the study of theology which does indeed lend him the key to social ascent. It is his excellence in this field which brings him the initial chance of the job as tutor in the Renâl household and indeed his seduction (although more sincere than he might allow his pride to admit) of Mathilde de la Mole which leaves him with a nobles title and, at least for a short time, the world for which he has always longed. Without his burning ambition he would certainly have remained the unhappy carpenters son. He does the best he can, given the restrictions of his social class and the helping and hindering hand of chance. Yet his ambition is an impersonal one. Julien does not try to shape the destiny of Julien Sorel, he tries to shape the destiny of an entirely cold-hearted, calculating and focused young man, of the man he tries, unsuccessfully to mould himself into. His failure to recognise the truth of things: of himself, of the values which matter and the realms in which true happiness lie, alienates him from his own reality, and so his hollow victory is bound to fail. As long as Julien denies himself his personality and feelings, his military mission remains a hard-fought battle. Only when the real Julien is uncovered does he free himself from the self-image he has imposed upon himself, and take full control of his destiny.

 
 




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