Top positive review
26 people found this helpful
More playful than reputation as 'realistic' classic suggests
on January 10, 2001
A more entertaining treatment of the theme of the transgressive individual and hypocritical society than Camus' 'The Outsider'. 'The Red and the Black' is often held up as the starting point of 19th century European realism, and the book has the socio-historical breadth, narrative variety, powerful set-pieces and vivid characterisation we expect from such a term.
But in its breathless speed, deceptively casual style and weightless movement, making it read more like a thriller than a novel of social mores, it is a world away from the works of Dickens, Tolstoy or Balzac, which are too often grounded by detail; and closer to the Voltaire of 'Candide'.
Similarly, Stendhal's supple psychological analysis is not the rigid speculation of these masters, but a recognition of shifting, provisional consciousness more usual in James and Proust. finally, the novel's formal playfulness, the interplay between narrator and his material, his ironically 'heroic', Dumas-like approach to his hero and the more bathetic reality foreshadow the 'anti-fiction' procedures of Nabokov.
The difference between the Oxford World's Classics tranlation (Catherine Slater) and the Everyman (Scott Moncrieff) is that the former is unpoetic, serviceable, but a great, lucid pageturner, while the Moncrieff is poetic, often beautiful, but frequently stumbling, tripping up over the Stendhalian pace. Roger Pearson's OWC introduction brilliantly reveals the intricate patterning and allusiveness inherent in Stendhal's seemingly rushed prose; Everyman has a useful selection of major critical responses to the book (Balzac, Zola, Sainte-Beuve, James etc.).