A Major New TranslationThe Red and the Black, Stendhal's masterpiece, is the story of Julien Sorel, a young dreamer from the provinces, fueled by Napoleonic ideals, whose desire to make his fortune sets in motion events both mesmerizing and tragic. Sorel's quest to find himself, and the doomed love he encounters along the way, are delineated with an unprecedented psychological depth and realism. At the same time, Stendhal weaves together the social life and fraught political intrigues of post-Napoleonic France, bringing that world to unforgettable, full-color life. His portrait of Julien and early-nineteenth-century France remains an unsurpassed creation, one that brilliantly anticipates modern literature. Neglected during its time, The Red and the Blackhas assumed its rightful place as one of the world's great books, and Burton Raffel's extraordinary new translation, coupled with an enlightening Introduction by Diane Johnson, helps it shine more brightly than ever before.
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May 11, 2004
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Excerpt from The Red and the Black by Stendhal
The little town of Verrieres might be one of the prettiest in all Franche-Comte. Its white houses with their sharp-pointed roofs of red tile stretch down a hillside, every faint ripple in the long slope marked by thick clusters of chestnut trees. A few hundred feet below the ruins of the ancient fortress, built by the Spanish, runs the River Doubs.
To the north, Verrieres is sheltered by a great mountain, part of the Jura range. The first frosts of October cover these jagged peaks with snow. A stream that rushes down from the mountains, crossing through Verrieres and then pouring itself into the Doubs, powers a good many sawmills-an immensely simple industry that provides a modest living for most of the inhabitants, more peasant than bourgeois. But the sawmills are not what brought prosperity to the little town. It was the production of printed calico cloth, known as "Mulhouse," which ever since the fall of Napoleon has created widespread comfort and led to the refinishing of virtually every house in Verrieres. Just inside the town, there is a stunning roar from a machine of frightful appearance. Twenty ponderous hammers, falling over and over with a crash that makes the ground tremble, are lifted by a wheel that the stream keeps in motion. Every one of these hammers, each and every day, turns out I don't know how many thousands of nails. And it's pretty, smooth-cheeked young girls who offer pieces of iron to these enormous hammers, which quickly transform them into nails. This operation, visibly harsh and violent, is one of the things that most astonishes a first-time traveler, poking his way into the mountains separating France and Switzerland. And if the traveler, entering Verrieres, asks who owns this noble nail-making factory, deafening everyone who walks along the main street, he'll be told, in the drawling accent of the region, "Ah-it belongs to His Honor the Mayor."
If the traveler spends just a moment or two on Verrieres's grand thoroughfare, which ascends along the bank of the Doubs right up to the top of the hill, the odds are a hundred to one he'll see a tall man with an air both businesslike and important.