Sample Questions

1. In what sense is "The Red and the Black" a chronicle of 1830?

Talk about what is implied by a chronicle i.e. usually a work of fact rather than fiction. Note the importance of 1830 to French history and the absence of any references to Revolution, as well as Stendhal's confused chronology.

Discuss the role that contemporary events have in shaping the course of the novel. Refer to Auerbach's conception of mimesis in the novel and the impossibility of situating any of the characters or events anywhere except late Restoration France. Use examples.

Use the different possible interpretations of the title to illustrate the way in which the novel combines the lives of individuals with the highly specific problems of an age. In these terms it may be a chronicle.

2. Is Julien Sorel a manipulative hypocrite or a principled idealist?

Discuss what Julien means when he refers to hypocrisy. Identify the specific steps that he takes for self-advancement; who are his victims? Elaborate on his relations with the two women in the book; look carefully at how he seduces them. Even if he does try to manipulate people, do things always go to plan?

Does Julien have ideals that he would never be prepared to sacrifice for the sake of his ambition? What other factors influence his behaviour? Imagination? A sense of duty? Love? Is his love genuine and how can we tell?

Compare his character and behaviour at the end of the novel to how he acts at the start. Do the means justify the ends? Can he be both, putting hypocrisy to the service of high ideals? Is he finally punished for his hypocrisy or is he a victim of his ideals?

Consider the role of the narrator in influencing the opinions of his readers. Can we tell what the narrator thinks?

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