The Red and the Black

Author: Stendhal  | Date: 1830


A Man of Wit

The Prefect travelling along on horseback asked himself: why would I not be Minister, President of the Counsel, Duke? Here is how I will make war... By this means I would throw the innovators into irons...


NO ARGUMENT could destroy a resolution that had been fixed by ten years of thought. The Marquis could not at heart find any reason for being angry, yet he could not make up his mind to forgive. "If only Julien would suddenly die!" he said to himself now and then. He found some consolation in following up many chimerical projects; they nearly withstood the reasonable arguments of abbe Pirard.

A whole month passed unmarked by any decisive step. In this family affair, as in matters of state, the Marquis had certain brilliant ideas about which he would be very enthusiastic for three days. Then any line of conduct would seem inadequate because supported only by good reasoning; and yet he would reason only as was suitable to his favorite plan. For three days he had worked with the ardor and enthusiasm of a poet to bring the matter to a certain head. Then the next day he did not think of it again. Julien felt troubled by the Marquis’s slowness. After some weeks he began to think that M. de la Mole had really adopted no plan of action. Madame de la Mole and the entire house thought that Julien was in the provinces to take care of the lands. He had only hidden himself with abbe Pirard, and saw Mathilde almost every day. She would spend an hour with her father every morning; but for weeks, sometimes, not a word would be uttered about their great trouble.

"I do not want to know where that man is," her father said to her one day. "Send him this letter." Mathilde read:

"My lands in Landguedoc yield twenty thousand six hundred francs. I will give ten thousand six hundred to my daughter and ten thousand to M. Julien Sorel. Of course I give the lands, too. Notify the notary to prepare two separate deeds and to give them to me to-morrow. After this all is over, Monsieur, can I expect an answer to this?


"I thank you so much!" Mathilde cried gayly. "We are going to live at Chateau Aiguillon, between Agen and Marmande; they say the country there is as beautiful as in Italy."

The gift came as a great surprise to Julien. He was no longer that harsh and cruel man that we have known. The future of his child absorbed his every thought. Such a fortune, coming unexpectedly to a man as poor as he, gave rise to great plans. He saw already an income of thirty-six thousand livres for his wife as well as for himself.

As for Mathilde, all her thoughts were absorbed in adoration of her husband, for so she proudly called him. Her sole ambition was to have the marriage recognized. She spent her time exaggerating the great prudence she had shown in uniting herself to such a superior man. His personal worth alone occupied her mind. His absence, the complexity of the affair, the little time they could pass in speaking of their love, combined to bring out the good results which his prudence before had begun.

Mathilde gradually became impatient at the thought that she saw so little of the man she adored. In a moment of anger she wrote her father, beginning like Othello:

"That I have preferred Julien to all the advantages that society could offer to a daughter of Marquis de la Mole, my choice has proved. The pleasures of a society life are nothing to me. As weeks have now passed since I have been separated from my husband, it is long enough to show my respect for you. Before next Thursday I shall leave home. Your kindness has made us rich. No one knows my secret except abbe Pirard. I will go to him, and he will marry us. An hour after the ceremony we will be on our way to Landguedoc, never to appear again in Paris except at your request. But what is like a stab to my heart is the fact that it will all be a good tale at your expense and mine. Will not the epigrams of a foolish public oblige my excellent Norbert to quarrel with Julien? Under such circumstances I know I have no influence with him; we should then find in his heart only a discontented plebeian. I beg you on my knees, my father, to be present at our marriage in M. Pirard’s church next Thursday. Then the public talk will not be so poignant; and the life of my child, as well as that of my husband, will be spared."

The Marquis was greatly embarrassed by that letter; he must then come to some decision! All his habits, all his ordinary friends, had lost their influence over him. At this juncture, the traits of his character, impressed by the great events in his youth, became again manifest. The misfortunes of the Emigration had made him a man of reflection; for after enjoying for two years an immense fortune, and all the distinctions of the Court, he had been thrown, in the year 1760, into the greatest wretchedness. That hard school had changed the heart of a young man of twenty-two. Indeed, he was not enslaved by his great fortune. Yet his heart, preserved from the corrosion of gold, was mastered by one ambition: to see his daughter the possessor of a great title.

During the six weeks that had passed, the Marquis had been thinking of making Julien rich; for poverty seemed ignoble, almost dishonoring to M. de la Mole, and impossible for his daughter’s husband. He himself was always throwing money away. The next day it seemed to him that Julien might learn the mute eloquence of his great gift, change his name, and go to America, and write to Mathilde that he was dead to her. The Marquis was already thinking that the letter had been written, and was wondering what effect it would have on his daughter.

On the day when he was drawn out of his dreams by Mathilde’s real letter, after he had been thinking a long time of making away with Julien in some way, the idea came to him of building up an immense fortune for him. He would give him the name of one of his estates; and why could he not have the peerage passed to him? Duke de Chaulnes, his father-in-law, had frequently spoken to him, after his only son had been killed in Spain, of his desire to transmit his title to Norbert. It could not be denied that Julien had a singular aptitude for affairs. "He is daring, even brilliant at times," the Marquis was saying to himself, "but at the very bottom of his character I see something terrifying. That is the impression he invariably makes; there is something in that!

"My daughter was telling me the other day that Julien is not connected with any salon or any clique. He has not a single support against me, not a single resource if I abandon him. But is that from ignorance of the actual state of affairs? Two or three times I have already told him there is no real or profitable candidacy except from the salon. No! he has not that adroit and cautious spirit of a procureur who never loses a minute or an opportunity. There is nothing of the Louis XI in him. On the other hand, I see something antagonistic to nobility in him. Would he use it as a dam against his passions?

"Well, one thing remains, he cannot stand a slight, and I will hold him by that. There is no religion in noble birth, that is true; he does not respect us instinctively. Of course, it is wrong; and a seminarist’s soul should not be touched except by want. He, on the other hand, will not brook a single slight."

Pressed as he was by his daughter’s letter, M. de la Mole saw the necessity of immediate action. "Now, here is the great question: has Julien’s audacity gone so far as to court my daughter because he knows that I love her more than anyone else and I have an income of one hundred thousand livres? Mathilde says no. No, Monsieur Julien, I will not be deceived on that score. Was there real, sudden love, or simply the common desire of raising himself to a fine position? Mathilde has a clear head; she knew that that suspicion would lose him forever in my eyes, and hence the confession she made that she loved him first! To think that a girl of such a lofty character would forget herself so far as to make advances, to press his arm in the garden of a night! Preposterous! As if she could not have found a hundred other occasions, less indecent, to let him know that she thought something of him! ’He who excuses himself, accuses himself.’ I have reason to suspect Mathilde." And the Marquis was more decided that day than he had ever been before. Yet he thought he would wait and write to his daughter. M. de la Mole did not dare to have an argument with Mathilde; he was afraid he would make a complete and sudden concession. And he wrote:

"Do not do anything more stupid. Here is a commission of a Lieutenancy of Hussars for M. Chevalier Julien Sorel de la Vernaye. See what I have done for him! Do not oppose me; do not ask any questions. Let him leave for Strasburg, where his regiment is stationed, in twenty-four hours. Enclosed find an order on my banker. Obey!"

Mathilde’s love and joy were infinite. Wishing to profit by her victory, she replied immediately:

"M. de la Vernaye would be at your feet, proffering you thanks, if he knew all that you have been kind enough to do for him; but with all this generosity, my father has forgotten me. Your daughter’s reputation is in danger; one indiscretion is enough to give her everlasting shame, which an income of twenty thousand ecus could not repair. I will not send the commission to M. de la Vernaye unless you give me your word that in the course of the next month my marriage shall be celebrated in public at Villechieres. Soon after that your daughter will not be able to appear in public except under the name of Madame de la Vernaye. I thank you, dear papa, for having delivered me from the name of Sorel."

The answer was unexpected, and so the Marquis wrote again:

"Obey, or I take everything back. Take care, imprudent one! I do not know who your Julien is, and you know him less than I do. Let him leave for Strasburg immediately. I will inform you of my wishes in a fortnight."

The firm reply astonished Mathilde. "I do not know Julien!" The fact threw her into a reverie which ended with most enchanting ideas. "My Julien’s genius has not been clothed in the little salon uniform, and my father cannot believe in his superiority just because he proves it. However, if I do not obey, I see a possibility of a public scandal; my position in the world will become wretched, and I may make myself perhaps less lovable in Julien’s eyes. Poverty for ten years and the choice of a husband for his own sake must in the end be crowned by wealth to escape ridicule. My father, at his age, might at a distance forget me. Norbert will marry some amiable, clever woman. Old Louis XIV was led astray by the Duchess de Bourgogne-"

She resolved to obey him, but did not communicate her father’s letter to Julien. That strange character might be led to do something rash! In the evening, when she told Julien that he had been made a Lieutenant of Hussars, his joy was beyond all control. A life-long ambition and his love for the coming child- all was seen in his wild delight. The change of name astonished him most.

"Now, at last, my dream is fulfilled, and I have only myself to thank! I know how to make myself esteemed by this proud creature!" he added, looking at Mathilde. "Her father cannot live without her, nor she without me."


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Chicago: Stendhal, "Chapter 33," The Red and the Black, trans. Charles Tergie Original Sources, accessed July 14, 2024,

MLA: Stendhal. "Chapter 33." The Red and the Black, translted by Charles Tergie, Original Sources. 14 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Stendhal, 'Chapter 33' in The Red and the Black, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 14 July 2024, from