The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

Chapter 2

First Appearance in Society

Absurd and touching memory: one’s first appearance, at eighteen, alone and unsupported, in a drawing-room! A glance from a woman was enough to terrify me. The more I tried to shine, the more awkward I became. I formed the most false ideas of everything; either I surrendered myself for no reason, or I saw an enemy in a man because he had looked at me with a serious expression. But then, amid all the fearful sufferings of my shyness, how fine was a fine day!

KANT

Julien stopped in confusion in the middle of the courtyard.

‘Do assume a reasonable air,’ said the Abbe Picard; ‘you take hold of horrible ideas, and you are only a boy! Where is the nil mirari of Horace?’ (That is: no enthusiasm.) ‘Reflect that this tribe of flunkeys, seeing you established here, will try to make a fool of you; they will regard you as an equal, unjustly set over them. Beneath a show of good nature, of good advice, of a wish to guide you, they will try to catch you out in some stupid blunder.’

‘I defy them to do so,’ said Julien, biting his lip; and he recovered all his former distrust.

The drawing-rooms through which our friends passed on the first floor, before coming to the Marquis’s study, would have seemed to you, gentle reader, as depressing as they were magnificent. Had you been made a present of them as they stood, you would have refused to live in them; they are the native heath of boredom and dreary argument. They redoubled Julien’s enchantment. ‘How can anyone be unhappy,’ he thought, ‘who lives in so splendid a residence?’

Finally, our friends came to the ugliest of the rooms in this superb suite: the daylight barely entered it; here, they found a wizened little man with a keen eye and a fair periwig. The abbe turned to Julien, whom he presented. It was the Marquis. Julien had great difficulty in recognising him, so civil did he find him. This was no longer the great nobleman, so haughty in his mien, of the Abbey of Bray-le-Haut. It seemed to Julien that there was far too much hair in his wig. Thanks to this impression, he was not in the least intimidated. The descendant of Henri III’s friend struck him at first as cutting but a poor figure. He was very thin and greatly agitated. But he soon remarked that the Marquis showed a courtesy even more agreeable to the person he was addressing than that of the Bishop of Besancon himself. The audience did not occupy three minutes. As they left the room, the abbe said to Julien:

‘You looked at the Marquis as you would have looked at a picture. I am no expert in what these people call politeness, soon you will know more about it than I; still, the boldness of your stare seemed to me to be scarcely polite.’

They had returned to their vehicle; the driver stopped by the boulevard; the abbe led Julien through a series of spacious rooms. Julien remarked that they were unfurnished. He was looking at a magnificent gilt clock, representing a subject that in his opinion was highly indecent, when a most elegant gentleman approached them with an affable expression. Julien made him a slight bow.

The gentleman smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder. Julien quivered and sprang back. He was flushed with anger. The abbe Pirard, for all his gravity, laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks. The gentleman was a tailor.

‘I leave you at liberty for two days,’ the abbe told him as they emerged; ‘it is not until then that you can be presented to Madame de La Mole. Most people would protect you like a young girl, in these first moments of your sojourn in this modern Babylon. Ruin yourself at once, if you are to be ruined, and I shall be rid of the weakness I show in caring for you. The day after tomorrow, in the morning, this tailor will bring you two coats; you will give five francs to the boy who tries them on you. Otherwise, do not let these Parisians hear the sound of your voice. If you utter a word, they will find a way of making you look foolish. That is their talent. The day after tomorrow, be at my house at midday . . . Run along, ruin yourself . . . I was forgetting, go and order boots, shirts, a hat at these addresses.’

Julien studied the handwriting of the addresses.

‘That is the Marquis’s hand,’ said the abbe, ‘he is an active man who provides for everything, and would rather do a thing himself than order it to be done. He is taking you into his household so that you may save him trouble of this sort. Will you have sufficient intelligence to carry out all the orders that this quick-witted man will suggest to you in a few words? The future will show: have a care!’

Julien, without uttering a word, made his way into the shops indicated on the list of addresses; he observed that he was greeted there with respect, and the bootmaker, in entering his name in his books, wrote ‘M. Julien de Sorel’.

In the Cemetery of Pere–Lachaise a gentleman who seemed highly obliging, and even more Liberal in his speech, offered to guide Julien to the tomb of Marshal Ney, from which a wise administration has withheld the honour of an epitaph. But, after parting from this Liberal, who, with tears in his eyes, almost clasped him to his bosom, Julien no longer had a watch. It was enriched by this experience that, two days later, at noon, he presented himself before the abbe Pirard, who studied him attentively.

‘You are perhaps going to become a fop,’ the abbe said to him, with a severe expression. Julien had the appearance of an extremely young man, in deep mourning; he did, as a matter of fact, look quite well, but the good abbe was himself too provincial to notice that Julien still had that swing of the shoulders which in the provinces betokens at once elegance and importance. On seeing Julien, the Marquis considered his graces in a light so different from that of the good abbe that he said to him:

‘Should you have any objection to M. Sorel’s taking dancing-lessons?’

The abbe was rooted to the spot.

‘No,’ he replied, at length, ‘Julien is not a priest.’

The Marquis, mounting two steps at a time by a little secret stair, conducted our hero personally to a neat attic which overlooked the huge garden of the house. He asked him how many shirts he had ordered from the hosier.

‘Two,’ replied Julien, dismayed at seeing so great a gentleman descend to these details.

‘Very good,’ said the Marquis, with a serious air, and an imperative, curt note in his voice, which set Julien thinking: ‘very good! Order yourself two and twenty more. Here is your first quarter’s salary.’

As they came down from the attic, the Marquis summoned an elderly man: ‘Arsene,’ he said to him, ‘you will look after M. Sorel.’ A few minutes later, Julien found himself alone in a magnificent library: it was an exquisite moment. So as not to be taken by surprise in his emotion, he went and hid himself in a little dark corner; from which he gazed with rapture at the glittering backs of the books. ‘I can read all of those,’ he told himself. ‘And how should I fail to be happy here? M. de Renal would have thought himself disgraced for ever by doing the hundredth part of what the Marquis de La Mole has just done for me.

‘But first of all, we must copy the letters.’ This task ended, Julien ventured towards the shelves; he almost went mad with joy on finding an edition of Voltaire. He ran and opened the door of the library so as not to be caught. He then gave himself the pleasure of opening each of the eighty volumes in turn. They were magnificently bound, a triumph of the best craftsman in London. This was more than was needed to carry Julien’s admiration beyond all bounds.

An hour later, the Marquis entered the room, examined the copies, and was surprised to see that Julien wrote cela with a double l, cella ‘So all that the abbe has been telling me of his learning is simply a tale!’ The Marquis, greatly discouraged, said to him gently:

‘You are not certain of your spelling?’

‘That is true,’ said Julien, without the least thought of the harm he was doing himself; he was moved by the Marquis’s kindness, which made him think of M. de Renal’s savage tone.

‘It is all a waste of time, this experiment with a little Franc-comtois priest,’ thought the Marquis; ‘but I did so want a trustworthy man.

Cela has only one l,’ the Marquis told him; ‘when you have finished your copies, take the dictionary and look out all the words of which you are not certain.’

At six o’clock the Marquis sent for him; he looked with evident dismay at Julien’s boots: ‘I am to blame. I forgot to tell you that every evening at half-past five you must dress.’

Julien looked at him without understanding him.

‘I mean put on stockings. Arsene will remind you; today I shall make your apologies.’

So saying, M. de La Mole ushered Julien into a drawing-room resplendent with gilding. On similar occasions, M. de Renal never failed to increase his pace so that he might have the satisfaction of going first through the door.

The effect of his old employer’s petty vanity was that Julien now trod upon the Marquis’s heels, and caused him considerable pain, owing to his gout. ‘Ah! He is even more of a fool than I thought,’ the Marquis said to himself. He presented him to a woman of tall stature and imposing aspect. It was the Marquise. Julien decided that she had an impertinent air, which reminded him a little of Madame de Maugiron, the Sub–Prefect’s wife of the Verrieres district, when she attended the Saint Charles’s day dinner. Being somewhat embarrassed by the extreme splendour of the room, Julien did not hear what M. de La Mole was saying. The Marquise barely deigned to glance at him. There were several men in the room, among whom Julien recognised with unspeakable delight the young Bishop of Agde, who had condescended to say a few words to him once at the ceremony at Bray-le-Haut. The young prelate was doubtless alarmed by the tender gaze which Julien, in his timidity, fastened upon him, and made no effort to recognise this provincial.

The men assembled in this drawing-room seemed to Julien to be somehow melancholy and constrained; people speak low in Paris, and do not exaggerate trifling matters.

A handsome young man, wearing moustaches, very pale and slender, entered the room at about half-past six; he had an extremely small head.

‘You always keep us waiting,’ said the Marquise, as he kissed her hand.

Julien gathered that this was the Comte de La Mole. He found him charming from the first.

‘Is it possible,’ he said to himself, ‘that this is the man whose offensive pleasantries are going to drive me from this house?’

By dint of a survey of Comte Norbert’s person, Julien discovered that he was wearing boots and spurs; ‘and I ought to be wearing shoes, evidently as his inferior.’ They sat down to table. Julien heard the Marquise utter a word of rebuke, slightly raising her voice. Almost at the same moment he noticed a young person extremely fair and very comely, who was taking her place opposite to him. She did not attract him at all; on studying her attentively, however, he thought that he had never seen such fine eyes; but they hinted at great coldness of heart. Later, Julien decided that they expressed a boredom which studies other people but keeps on reminding itself that it is one’s duty to be imposing. ‘Madame de Renal, too, had the most beautiful eyes,’ he said to himself; ‘people used to compliment her on them; but they had nothing in common with these.’ Julien had not enough experience to discern that it was the fire of wit that shone from time to time in the eyes of Mademoiselle Mathilde, for so he heard her named. When Madame de Renal’s eyes became animated, it was with the fire of her passions, or was due to a righteous indignation upon hearing of some wicked action. Towards the end of dinner, Julien found the right word to describe the type of beauty exemplified by the eyes of Mademoiselle de La Mole: ‘They are scintillating,’ he said to himself. Otherwise, she bore a painful resemblance to her mother, whom he disliked more and more, and he ceased to look at her. Comte Norbert, on the other hand, struck him as admirable in every respect. Julien was so captivated, that it never entered his head to be jealous of him and to hate him, because he was richer and nobler than himself.

Julien thought that the Marquis appeared bored.

During the second course, he said to his son:

‘Norbert, I must ask you to look after M. Julien Sorel, whom I have just taken upon my staff, and intend to make a man of, if that (cela) can be done.

‘He is my secretary,’ the Marquis added to his neighbour, ‘and he spells cela with a double l.’

Everyone looked at Julien, who gave Norbert a slightly exaggerated bow; but on the whole, they were satisfied with his appearance.

The Marquis must have spoken of the kind of education that Julien had received, for one of the guests tackled him upon Horace: ‘It was precisely in discussing Horace that I was successful with the Bishop of Besancon,’ Julien said to himself, ‘evidently he is the only author they know.’ From that moment he was master of himself. This change was made easy by his having just decided that Mademoiselle de La Mole would never be a woman in his eyes. Since his Seminary days he defied men to do their worst, and refused to be intimidated by them. He would have enjoyed perfect self-possession, had the dining-room been furnished with less magnificence. It was, as a matter of fact, a pair of mirrors, each of them eight feet high, in which he caught sight now and then of his challenger as he spoke of Horace, that still continued to overawe him. His sentences were not unduly long for a provincial. He had fine eyes, the sparkle in which was enhanced by his tremulous, or, when he had made a good answer, his happy shyness. This sort of examination made a serious dinner-party quite interesting. The Marquis made a sign to the other speaker to press Julien hard. ‘Can it be possible that he does know something?’ he thought.

Julien found fresh ideas as he answered, and lost enough of his shyness not, indeed, to display wit, a thing impossible to a person ignorant of the language that is spoken in Paris, but he had original ideas, albeit expressed without gracefulness or appropriateness, and it could be seen that he had a thorough knowledge of Latin.

His adversary was a member of the Academy of Inscriptions, who happened to know Latin; he found in Julien an excellent humanist, lost all fear of making him blush, and really did seek to embarrass him. In the heat of the duel, Julien at length forgot the magnificent decoration of the dining-room, and began to express ideas with regard to the Latin poets, which the other had never read in any book. Being an honest man, he gave the credit for them to the young secretary. Fortunately, the discussion turned to the question whether Horace had been poor or rich: an amiable person, sensual and easy-going, making poetry for his own amusement, like Chapelle, the friend of Moliere and La Fontaine; or a poor devil of a Poet Laureate attached to the court and composing odes for the King’s Birthday, like Southey, the traducer of Lord Byron. They spoke of the state of society under Augustus and under George IV; in both epochs the aristocracy was all-powerful! but in Rome it saw its power wrested from it by Maecenas, who was a mere knight; and in England it had reduced George IV more or less to the position of a Doge of Venice. This discussion seemed to draw the Marquis out of the state of torpor in which his boredom had kept him plunged at the beginning of dinner.

Julien could make nothing of all these modern names, such as Southey, Lord Byron, George IV, which he now heard for the first time. But no one could fail to observe that whenever there was any question of historical events at Rome, a knowledge of which might be derived from the works of Horace, Martial, Tacitus, etc., he had an unchallengeable superiority. Julien appropriated without a scruple a number of ideas which he had acquired from the Bishop of Besancon, during the famous discussion he had had with that prelate; these proved to be not the least acceptable.

When the party tired of discussing poets, the Marquise, who made it a rule to admire anything that amused her husband, condescended to glance at Julien. ‘The awkward manners of this young cleric may perhaps be concealing a learned man,’ the Academician, who was sitting near her, said to the Marquise; and Julien overheard something of what he was saying. Ready-made phrases were quite to the taste of his hostess; she adopted this description of Julien, and was glad that she had invited the Academician to dine. ‘He amuses M. de La Mole,’ she thought.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/stendhal/red/book2.2.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30