The Red and the Black

Author: Stendhal  | Date: 1830


1830 Behavior

Speech was given to man to hide his thoughts.


HE HAD hardly arrived at Verrieres, when Julien regretted his injustice toward Madame de Renal.

"I should have despised her as a weak woman if she had not been equal to that scene with her husband. She acquitted herself like a diplomat, and I sympathize with the vanquished, who is my enemy! There is something of the bourgeois in me; my vanity is wounded because M. de Renal is a man- the illustrious and vast corporation to which I have the honor of belonging! Oh, I am a fool!"

M. Chelan had refused the lodgings which the more considerate Liberals had offered him after he had been removed from the vicarage. The two rooms he had rented were filled with books. Julien, wishing to show Verrieres what a priest could do, got a dozen fir planks from his father, and carried them himself all the way over Grande Rue. He borrowed some tools from an old friend of his, and soon he had some shelving finished on which M. Chelan’s books were arranged in order.

"I thought you had been spoiled by worldly vanity," said the old man to him, with tears in his eyes. "That has made up for your foolishness over that brilliant Guard of Honor uniform, which made you so many enemies."

M. de Renal had ordered him to go to his house; no one had any idea of what had passed.

On the third day after his arrival, Julien saw no less a personage mounting the stairway than the sub-prefect de Maugiron. It was not until after two hours of insipid chatter and grandiloquent jeremiades on the wickedness of mankind, on the lack of probity in men charged with the administration of public funds, on the dangers besetting poor France, that Julien saw at length the purport of his visit. They were already on the stairway, and the poor, half-disgraced preceptor had respectfully taken the future prefect of a department to the door, when the latter graciously began to talk of Julien’s future, and to praise his foresight and genius.

At length M. de Maugiron, after a paternal embrace, proposed to him to leave M. de Renal’s for the house of an official who had children to educate, and who, like King Philip, was thanking heaven not so much for having given them to him as for bringing them into the world in the neighborhood of M. Julien. Their teacher would enjoy an income of eight hundred francs, payable not by the month, "which is not genteel," said M. de Maugiron, "but quarterly, and always in advance."

It was now Julien’s turn. The latter, after an hour and a half of waiting, had been growing somewhat weary. His reply was perfect and as long as a dissertation. Almost anything could be gathered from it, but nothing definite. It was replete at once with respect for M. de Renal, with consideration for the Verrieres public, and with gratitude for the illustrious sub-prefect. This sub-prefect, astonished at finding more of a Jesuit than himself, endeavored to ascertain something positive. Seemingly enchanted with the opportunity, Julien commenced another reply. Never had an eloquent minister, who wished to seize an opportunity in the Chamber, said less in more words. But hardly had M. de Maugiron departed when Julien burst out in uncontrollable laughter.

In order to profit by his Jesuitical finesse he immediately wrote a nine-page letter to M. de Renal, giving him an account of all that was said, and asking for advice.

"That fool has not told me the name of the man who is making me the offer; it must be M. Valenod, who sees in my exile the effect of the anonymous letter."

This letter despatched, Julien, as happy as a sportsman would be in coming on a fine autumn day into a field full of game, went out to consult M. Chelan. But, before arriving at the good curate’s, his good fortune brought him face to face with M. Valenod, from whom he did not hide the fact that his heart was broken. A poor boy, as he was, might devote himself to the calling which heaven had placed in his heart, but the calling is not all in this wicked world. In order to labor diligently in the Lord’s vineyard, and not to be unworthy of his learned colleagues, he must be taught; he must spend two very expensive years at the Besancon seminary. It was indispensable to be economical; it was easier with an income of eight hundred francs, paid quarterly in advance, than with six hundred, which melted away from month to month. On the other hand, did not heaven, in placing him with the de Renal children, and especially in inspiring in him a real love for them, seem to indicate to him that it would not be proper to leave them for others?

Julien reached such a degree of perfection in that sort of eloquence that he was annoyed, through sheer frequency, by the sound of his own voice. On his return he found M. Valenod’s valet in fine livery, who had been looking for him all over town, with an invitation for dinner that day. Julien had never been to that man’s house. Only a few days before he was thinking of knocking him down in such a way as to avoid trouble with the police.

Although the dinner was not to take place until one o’clock, Julien found it more respectful to present himself in the Director’s library at half-past twelve. He found him there expatiating on his great importance, surrounded by a mass of letters. His long black moustache, his enormous head of hair, surmounted crookedly by a Greek cap, his immense pipe, his embroidered slippers, his heavy gold chains crossed over his breast, everything that went to give him an appearance of an important financier, failed of an impression with Julien. He was only thinking of the caning that he owed him.

He asked the privilege of being presented to Madame Valenod. She was dressing and could not receive. As by a sort of compensation, he had the pleasure of being present while the Director dressed. When they came into the room, Madame Valenod, with tears in her eyes, presented her children to him. She was a leading society woman of Verrieres. Her large, masculine face, which was thickly rouged in honor of the occasion, was pathetic with maternal solicitude. Julien was thinking of Madame de Renal. His present indifference made him susceptible only to those ideas which are occasioned by contrast; and these ideas caused him great emotion when he beheld the furnishings of the Director’s house. All was magnificent, new, and costly, as he was told. But to Julien there was something common, coarse, that smelt of stolen money; even to the servants, every one seemed to brace himself against expected contempt.

The collector of taxes, the chief of police, and two or three other public officials presently arrived, accompanied by their wives. These were followed by some rich Liberals. Then dinner was announced. Julien, ill-disposed for the feast, was thinking of the poor creatures on the other side of the dining-room wall who were waiting for a meal, and whose meat had perhaps been nibbled in order to provide all this coarse luxury.

"Perhaps they are hungry at this moment," he was saying to himself. His gorge rose; it was impossible for him to eat, even to speak.

It was less than a quarter of an hour later when some notes of a popular song were heard. One of the detained poor was singing.

M. Valenod looked at one of his finely liveried men, and the latter departed. The singing immediately ceased. Just at this moment a valet was handing Rhine wine in a green glass to Julien, and Madame Valenod had observed that the wine cost nine francs a bottle at the vineyard.

Julien held up his green glass, saying to M. Valenod:

"They are not singing that popular song any more."

"Parbleu! no, indeed," answered the Director, triumphantly; "I have made those beggars keep quiet."

That word was too much for Julien; he had acquired the manners, but had not yet the heart suitable to his surroundings, in spite of all his hypocrisy. A great tear rolled down his cheek. He succeeded in hiding it with the green glass, but it was absolutely impossible for him to do justice to the Rhine wine.

"Prevent them from singing!" he was saying to himself. "Oh, Lord! and you permit it!"

Happily no one remarked the tender ring in his tone. The collector of taxes had then intoned a royalist song, and all were singing in chorus. All the time Julien’s conscience was saying to him:

"There, now, that is what you will reach. You will not live except under such conditions and in such company. You will perhaps have a position of twenty thousand francs, but while you are gorging yourself, you will have to prevent the poor wretches from singing. You will give dinners with the money that you have stolen from their miserable pittance, and while you are dining, they will be even more miserable. Oh, Napoleon, you were great enough in your time to point to greatness, through the smoke of battle; but to add to such misery in such a cowardly fashion!"

We must admit that Julien’s faint-heartedness, as seen in such reflections, might give rise to a poor opinion of him. He might be thought a worthy colleague of those tan-glove conspirators who are laboring to change the destinies of nations without getting a scratch. Julien was violently recalled to his role. It was not to dream, that he had been invited to dinner in such good company. A retired linen merchant, a corresponding member of the Academy of Besancon and of that of Uzes, spoke to him across the table, asking him if what was said about his marvellous progress in his study of the New Testament was true.

A profound silence ensued. As if by a miracle, a New Testament appeared in the hand of the savant of the two academies. Julien consenting, a Latin word was read, and then he began to recite. His memory served him well, and he was admired as a prodigy, with genuine after-dinner enthusiasm. Julien looked at the faces of the ladies; several were not bad looking. He particularly remarked the wife of the singer.

"Indeed, I am ashamed to speak Latin so long before these ladies," he said, looking at her. "If M. Rubigneau"- he was the academician- "would be kind enough to read a Latin phrase, I would try to translate it offhand in place of replying with the Latin text." This second test carried him to the pinnacle of glory.

There were present several rich Liberals with a penchant for lucre who had been converted at the last election. In spite of this political finesse, M. de Renal had never received them at his house. These fine gentlemen, who did not know Julien except by hearsay, and by what they had seen of him when he was on horseback during the King’s progress, were his noisiest admirers.

"When will these fools get tired of the biblical talk? They don’t understand it," thought he. On the contrary, the style, by its very strangeness, amused them; they secretly made fun of it. At length Julien grew tired.

He arose from the table ceremoniously, just as six o’clock struck, while speaking of a chapter in the new theological work of Ligorio, which he had to learn for the next day to recite before M. Chelan; "for it is my business," he added, suavely, "both to hear lessons and to recite them."

There was a laugh, and he was greatly admired; that was the cleverness in vogue at Verrieres. Such is the sway of genius, that when Julien stood up, all the rest arose, regardless of decorum. Madame Valenod kept him for another quarter of an hour; he must, indeed, hear the children recite their Catechism. They made all sorts of blunders, which he alone knew; but he did not care to correct them.

"What ignorance of the first principles of religion!" he said to himself.

He bade good-by and was about to leave, but was detained again. He must hear them recite one of La Fontaine’s fables.

"This author is indeed immoral," said Julien to Madame Valenod; "this fable about Jean Chouart ridicules everything that is holy. It is, indeed, criticised severely by the best commentators."

Before leaving, Julien received four or five invitations to dine. "The young man is an honor to the department," cried the dinner company, gayly; they even went so far as to speak of having a fund voted for him from the public treasury, to enable him to continue his studies in Paris.

While that imprudent idea was being expressed in the dining-room, Julien had reached the door. "The canaille!" he muttered three or four times, as he inhaled the fresh air. He considered himself an aristocrat at that moment, he who for so long had been irritated by the condescending smile and overbearing superiority in the polite phrases addressed to him at M. de Renal’s house. He could not but feel the great contrast.

"Even if I should forget," he said to himself, as he was leaving, "that all this money is stolen from the poor; that even a song is not permitted; yet never, never would M. de Renal think of telling his guests the price of each bottle of wine. And this M. Valenod, in going over his possessions, which he did interminably, does not speak of the house and of his other things if his wife is present, except by saying, ’your house, your land.’"

That lady, displaying all the marks of greed, had enacted an abominable scene while dinner was in progress. A servant had dropped a glass at her feet, and, with its breaking, had "spoilt the set." He had answered her with the greatest insolence.

"What a herd!" thought Julien. "If they gave me half what they steal I should not live with them. One of these fine days I am going to burst out; I cannot hold in any longer the contempt I feel for them."

Yet, in obedience to Madame de Renal’s command, he had to be present at several dinners that were all on the same order. Julien became the vogue; he was even forgiven his uniform of the Guard of Honor. That imprudence, indeed, was the real cause of his success. Soon there was only a question in Verrieres as to who would win the battle in getting the young savant, M. de Renal or the Director.

These two, together with M. Maslon, formed a triumvirate who for many years had ruled the town. The people, as a whole, were jealous of the Mayor, while the Liberals found much cause for complaint on their part. Yet, after all, he belonged to the nobility, and that made him a superior person. But M. Valenod’s father had not left an estate of six hundred livres. They recollected the pity they had felt for him when they knew him as a young man wearing a shabby little green coat- and now he had his fine horses, his gold chains, and Parisian clothes.

In his new surroundings Julien had discovered one good man, a geometrician by the name of Gros, who passed for a Jacobin. Julien, vowing that he would never say anything except what seemed false to himself, was obliged to be somewhat careful in the presence of this man.

He received, from time to time, large parcels of themes from Vergy, and was advised in letters to visit his father. To that dire necessity he also submitted. In a word, he was acquiring a fine reputation, when one morning he was surprised by two hands from behind placed over his eyes.

It was Madame de Renal who had come to town, and who, running up the steps in the greatest haste, having left her children playing with a rabbit, had entered Julien’s room.

That was a delightful moment for her, though all too short. Madame de Renal had just taken breath after her rapid flight up the stairs, when the children entered with the rabbit, which they wished to show to their friend. Julien gave them all a cordial reception, even the rabbit. It seemed as if he were with his own again; he felt that he loved these children, that he enjoyed playing with them. He was struck by the softness of their voices, and by their delicate, gentle little ways. He had to wash his memory clean of all the vulgar habits he had been seeing, and of the disagreeable feelings these had brought him during his exile in Verrieres. There was always that terrible contrast between luxury and misery before his eyes. The people with whom he had been dining, beginning with the roast, would make confidences humiliating to themselves and disgusting to their hearer.

"You, indeed, belong to the nobility, and you have a right to be proud," said he to Madame de Renal, as he told her of the dinners that had been inflicted upon him.

"Why, you are becoming the rage," she replied, laughing at the thought of how much rouge Madame Valenod felt obliged to put on while waiting for Julien. "Ah, I believe she has some designs on you."

The breakfast was delicious. The presence of the children, who, it must be said, were not quite as neat as usual in their appearance, lent additional happiness. The poor children did not know how to show all their joy on seeing Julien again. The servants had not failed to tell them that he had been offered two hundred francs more to educate the little Valenods. When they were not half through breakfast, Stanislaus-Xavier, pale yet from his long illness, suddenly asked his mother how much his dinner set and his cup would bring.


"I want to sell them to give the money to M. Julien, so he would not be bilked if he stayed with us."

Julien embraced him with tears in his eyes. The mother wept, too, as Julien, picking up Stanislaus on his knee, was telling how wrongly the word "bilk" was used. In such a sense, he said, it could be used only in speaking of servants. Seeing the pleasure it gave Madame de Renal, he went on to illustrate, with clever examples that quite amused the children, what it was to be "bilked."

"I understand," said Stanislaus; "it is just like the crow foolish enough to let go of her cheese, to let it be picked up by the flattering fox."

The delighted Madame de Renal was covering the child with kisses, leaning now and then a little on Julien, when all at once the door opened and M. de Renal entered.

His severe, sour look was in sharp contrast with the expression of delight on her face which his presence immediately drove away. Madame de Renal grew pale, feeling as if she could not utter a word. Julien, however, was equal to the occasion, and boldly began to tell the Mayor about the silver cup which Stanislaus wanted to sell. He was positive, though, it would not meet with a gracious reception. At first M. de Renal from sheer habit raised his eyebrows at hearing the word "silver." "The mention of that metal," he thought, "means a preface to my purse." But evidently there was something more interesting in this affair than money, and his suspicion was more than ever aroused. The happiness of his family during his absence was not calculated to make things agreeable to a man dominated by harrowing vanity. His wife told him how cleverly Julien had been imparting new ideas to his pupils.

"Yes, yes, I know it; he makes me hated by my own children. Oh, he is a hundred times more agreeable to them than I am, and I am their father! It is of a piece with all disregard of authority in this age! Poor France!"

Madame de Renal did not stop to consider the hints thrown out in her husband’s greeting. She was beginning to see a possibility of spending twelve hours with Julien. As she had a great deal of shopping to do, she said she would take dinner at the cabaret. And whatever her husband might urge to the contrary, she held fast to that resolution. The children were wild over the idea of the "cabaret"- a word by which modern prudery is shocked.

M. de Renal left his wife in the first notion store they came to, as he had an engagement elsewhere. He returned more morose than in the morning: he had been convinced that the whole town was talking about him and Julien.

In truth, no one gave him the least occasion to suspect anything. M. de Renal had been asked merely if Julien would remain with him for six hundred francs, or take the eight hundred francs offered by the Director.

Now, the Director, who had met M. de Renal, had taken his breath away. That was done not without some cleverness. For M. Valenod, coarse, petty, and shameless, was what would be called a buffoon, his prosperous existence since 1815 only accentuating the elegance of his manners. He was an official under the orders of M. de Renal, but, being much more active and unscrupulous than the latter, had, by dint of much writing and talking, and by utter disregard of all decency and self-respect, succeeded in playing the Mayor against the ecclesiastical authorities. M. Valenod had said to the grocers: "Let me have the two greatest fools among you;" to the lawyers, "Show me the two greatest charlatans in your court;" and to the health officers, "Give me your two greatest quacks." When he had gathered in the scum of each class, he had said to them, "Let us carry on the administration together."

It was the ways of such gentlemen that did not suit M. de Renal; Valenod’s vulgarity, nor even the absurdities of the little abbe Maslon, did not offend him so much. But with all his success, M. Valenod had to intrench himself behind a barricade of insolence to meet the attack of truth people would make. His activity redoubled from the time of M. Appert’s visit. He had made three trips to Besancon, and had written many letters with each courier, besides other letters sent by secret messengers who came to his house at midnight. He was wrong, perhaps, in removing the old curate Chelan; for that vindictive action he was looked upon by many of the well-to-do pious people as wicked. It had, besides, put him in the power of the vicar de Frilar, who was giving him some strange things to do. Such was his position when he yielded to the pleasure of writing an anonymous letter. To increase his embarrassment, his wife had intimated to him that she wished to have Julien at her house. His vanity had completely collapsed.

Under these circumstances, M. Valenod was awaiting the stormy scene with his old confederate, M. de Renal. The latter was not sparing, to be sure. But the words had no effect; yet the Mayor might write to Besancon, if not to Paris! Some minister’s cousin might all at once tumble down on Verrieres and take away the Directorship. M. Valenod had thought some time before of allying himself with the Liberals; for that reason several of them had been invited to the dinner together with Julien. He could thus be in a strong position against the Mayor; but the election would come, and it was too evident that the Directorship would be incompatible with an indiscreet vote! This political jugglery, of which Madame de Renal was aware, was described to Julien while he was escorting her from one store to another in Cours de la Fidelite, promenading as peacefully as at Vergy.

All this time M. Valenod was trying to ward off a sharp encounter with his patron, by showing himself bolder than usual. That day the method succeeded, but it aroused the Mayor’s anger even more. Never had vanity arising from the consciousness only of wealth put a man in such a pitiable position as it did M. de Renal when he entered the cabaret. Never, on the other hand, had his children been so glad and gay. The contrast aroused him anew.

"I am de trop in my family, from what I see," he said, as he entered, in a tone intended to be crushing.

By way of reply his wife took him aside, again telling him of the necessity of getting rid of Julien.

The pleasant hours she had passed gave her the ease and firmness necessary to carrying out her plan, the result of two weeks’ deliberation.

What troubled the poor Mayor of Verrieres more than anything else was the fact that he felt he was everywhere ridiculed for her attachment for this little bourgeois. Then, M. Valenod was as generous as a thief, while he himself had conducted himself rather shabbily in the five or six collections for the Brotherhood of St. Joseph, from the Congregation of the Holy Sacrament, and the rest. When the collectors in Verrieres and the neighborhood, adroitly classed on the record as "brother collectors," counted up the contributions, more than once M. de Renal’s name had appeared at the bottom of the list. In vain they said that he was not gaining anything by it.


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Chicago: Stendhal, "Chapter 22," The Red and the Black, trans. Charles Tergie Original Sources, accessed August 8, 2022,

MLA: Stendhal. "Chapter 22." The Red and the Black, translted by Charles Tergie, Original Sources. 8 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Stendhal, 'Chapter 22' in The Red and the Black, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 8 August 2022, from