With whom did his struggles leak?
With yourself, with yourself…
In the center of Stendhal’s novel is the fate of the descendant of the lower classes, who is trying to break his way into a higher society, to fame and fortune. The author traces the whole path of the hero in detail, from the first success to the death on the guillotine. But the spring of the novel’s action is not only the overcoming by Julien Sorel of obstacles on the way to his ideal, to his goal, but also the hero’s struggle with himself, the conflict between once and for all established principles and spiritual movements.
The young man, who received the rudiments of education from an old doctor, raved about Napoleon and his military career. Fragile, dreamy, possessing a natural mind and an excellent memory, Julien was very different from the simple village boys. He despised them, they hated him. Very early, Julien realized that he wanted to break out of
a musty provincial town into a big world where he could find an application for his abilities.
But how to get out? The times have changed, the military career turned out to be inaccessible to the carpenter’s son. There remained a spiritual vocation. Not feeling the slightest inclination towards him, almost not believing in God, Sorel begins to pretend to enlist the support of the good Abbe Shelan. Soon Julien becomes a tutor in the house of the mayor, M. de Renal. In the town of Verrieres, where the nobility and the bourgeoisie were accustomed to measuring everything received by the money profit, the moneybags at the same time despised the poor teacher, and involuntarily respected him for knowing that he did not want to curry favor with them. But as soon as he was exalted, they began to babble to the carpenter’s son and to slander one another.
Sorel constantly felt like a scout in the camp of enemies. Therefore, he developed a line of conduct and an action plan, from which he tried not to retreat. And the fact that Mr. de Renal’s wife fell in love with him seemed to him a class victory, not
an amorous adventure. To win over her was a matter of honor. And then he suddenly fell in love with her for real. The first pure and bright love came into conflict with the cynical principles, and to Sorel’s honor it must be said that the feeling won out.
To avoid publicity and scandal, Julien goes to the seminary. And then his adjusted system of advancement unexpectedly fails. It turned out that in an atmosphere of total surveillance and universal ostentatious humility and hypocrisy, Sorel’s inability to conceal intelligence, ability, aspiration for knowledge, even simply his cleanliness, is a crime.
But among the spiritual and secular nobles there were people who appreciated the intelligence and abilities of the young man. He becomes secretary of the Marquis de La Mole. The Marquis often mentally compares Sorel to his son and other young men from a secular society. And he pays tribute to the purposefulness, energy and resourcefulness of this commoner, while noting his proud dignity. Julien was expecting a fast, brilliant career. But the affair with the daughter of the Marquis Mathilde, who was more like a duel by all the rules, rather than on a sincere hobby, upset all the plans of the hero. The bored secular beauty decided that she could only love the hero, the man of action. After giving herself to Julien under the influence of a minute, she began to despise him and herself. This novel, where periods of proud cooling alternated with explosions of jealousy, this match of two ambitious men could end in a complete break, but almost ended in marriage. The Jesuit brothers did not miss the opportunity to get even with the upstart, intimidating Madame de Renal and sending her a letter defaming Sorel. The successive careerist would have left for America, having accepted the marquis from the retreat. But the hero Stendhal appreciates his own honor too much. And, seeking revenge, he shoots at Madame de Renal.
At the trial and on death row, before us is a completely different Julien, who at last has reached agreement with himself. He sees all the lies and meanness of the world around him and does not want to participate in this universal game anymore. Therefore, he does not ask for a pardon: to return to life means to accept the terms of the game again. No, Sorel prefers to tell the truth frankly at the trial and soberly assesses those in whose society he so recently sought to get: “But if you try to chance them to advance at the court, or, say, get or lose a ministerial portfolio – then my honest gentlemen from secular living rooms will go to any crime… “
So, the conflict between a man of the people and society is resolved: society gets rid of an unnecessary hero. Heroes have no place in the age of timelessness. And harmony in the soul of the hero himself reigns also at the cost of a complete renunciation of the vital principles of the immoral society, from which he goes to death.