The Red and the Black

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Author: Stendhal  | Date: 1830

CHAPTER 14

The English Scissors

A sixteen-year-old girl had the complexion of a rose and she put on rouge.

POLIDORI

AS FOR JULIEN, Fouque’s offer had taken away all his happiness; he could not make up his mind.

"Oh, perhaps I’m wanting in character; I should have been a bad soldier under Napoleon. At least," he added, "my little intrigue with the mistress of the house will amuse me for a while."

Happily, even in this petty incident, his heart but lamely responded to his cavalier-like tone. He was afraid of Madame de Renal’s dress. That dress, in his eyes, was the vanguard of Paris. His pride would not allow him to leave anything to chance or to the inspiration of the moment. After Fouque’s confidences and the little that he had read about love in his Bible, he went about formulating a detailed campaign. As he was greatly perturbed, without acknowledging it, he wrote out his plan.

The next morning Madame de Renal was alone with him for a moment in the drawing-room.

"Have not you another name besides Julien?" she asked.

To this flattering question our hero did not know what to reply. Such a circumstance had not entered into his plan. Without this foolish idea of following a plan, his lively ingenuity would have been equal to the occasion, and the surprise would have served only to add to the vivacity of his ideas.

He felt awkward, and he himself exaggerated his awkwardness.

Madame de Renal quickly overlooked this. She saw in it the effect of charming candor. And what was wanting in this man whom she deemed so intelligent was precisely this air of candor.

"Your little tutor inspires me with distrust," Madame Derville would say to her at times. "He has always a preoccupied air about him and always acts with diplomacy. He is a politician."

Julien was deeply humiliated by his embarrassment in not being able to reply to Madame de Renal. "A man like myself," he thought, "must make up for lost ground." And taking advantage of the moment they were passing to another room, he thought it was his duty to give Madame de Renal a kiss. Nothing was more hazardous, nothing more agreeable, both for him and for her, and nothing more imprudent. They just missed being caught. Madame de Renal thought he was mad. She was thoroughly frightened, besides shocked. The piece of absurdity reminded her of M. Valenod. "What would happen to me," she thought, "if I should be alone with him?" All her virtue returned: love had eclipsed itself.

She arranged it so as to have one of her children always about her.

The day was a tedious one for Julien; he spent it entirely in arranging, awkwardly enough, a plan of capture. He never looked at Madame de Renal but it meant an interrogation; he was not foolish enough, nevertheless, not to realize that he was not succeeding in making himself attractive, and seductive least of all.

Madame de Renal could not recover from her astonishment at finding him so awkward and at the same time so bold. "It is the timidity of love in a man of genius," she finally concluded with inexpressible joy. "Can it be possible that he has never been loved by my rival?"

After breakfast Madame de Renal returned to the drawing-room to receive M. Charcot de Maugiron, the sub-prefect of Bray. She worked at a piece of embroidered tapestry. Madame Derville was by her side. It was under these circumstances, in broad daylight, that our hero found it agreeable to put out his foot and press that of Madame de Renal, which, with the open-worked stocking and the pretty Parisian boot, was evidently attracting the attention of the gallant sub-prefect.

Madame de Renal was terrified; she dropped the scissors, the ball of wool, and the needles; and Julien’s movement might have been taken for an awkward attempt to catch the scissors he saw falling. Fortunately, the little English scissors broke, and Madame de Renal did not delay expressing her regret that Julien was not nearer. "You saw them fall before I did, and you might have prevented it instead of succeeding only in your eagerness in kicking me." All that deceived the sub-prefect, but not Madame Derville. "This pretty fellow," she mused, "has very bad manners; the good breeding even of a country town could not pardon such boorishness." Madame de Renal found a moment to tell Julien:

"Be careful, I command you."

Julien saw his blunder and became moody. He deliberated a long time with himself in order to ascertain whether he should be angry over the words, "I command you." He was foolish enough to reason: "She could say ’I command’ when it is a question about the education of the children; but in responding to my love she admits equality. Love is impossible without equality." And his whole mind was occupied with commonplaces about equality. He repeated angrily the verse from Corneille, which Madame Derville had taught him a few days before:

"...L’amour

Fait les egalites et ne les cherche pas."

Julien, obstinate in his role of Don Juan, with never a mistress in his life, was a perfect fool throughout the day. He had but one clear idea: that he was disgusted with himself and with Madame de Renal; and that the approach of evening, when he would be seated in the dark by her side, was insupportable. He told M. de Renal that he was going to Verrieres to visit the curate; he left after dinner and did not return until late at night.

At Verrieres, Julien found Chelan moving; he had just been removed, and the Vicar Maslon was taking his place. Julien lent a hand to the good curate. He had had an idea of writing to Fouque that his irresistible inclination for the sacred ministry was preventing him from accepting his kind offers; but after seeing such an example of injustice, it came to him that, after all, it might be more advantageous not to take holy orders.

Julien congratulated himself on the fact that he was benefiting by the removal of the curate of Verrieres in leaving a door open for a business career if sober prudence won the day over heroism.

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Chicago: Stendhal, "Chapter 14," The Red and the Black, trans. Charles Tergie Original Sources, accessed February 26, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=48KYTTQI2R3PX6G.

MLA: Stendhal. "Chapter 14." The Red and the Black, translted by Charles Tergie, Original Sources. 26 Feb. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=48KYTTQI2R3PX6G.

Harvard: Stendhal, 'Chapter 14' in The Red and the Black, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 26 February 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=48KYTTQI2R3PX6G.