Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Who's in (to) The Red and The Black

So some friends and I decided to read Stendhal's The Red and the Black--some good old fashioned beach reading. That's right, it's durn near a book club. I now see what all those people saw in having Oprah give them assigned reading.

Melody picked it out of a list we came up with. I think I suggested it for the list because of James Wood's references to it in How Fiction Works. I had actually avoided reading it in the past. I guess because of what I thought it was about. Which isn't really what it's about. What did I think it was about? Class, I guess. Which it is. Damn, I'm contradicting myself. Oh well, I contradict myself. Someone said that. But not about class the way I fear fiction is sometimes about class.

First I had to pick a translation. Damn foreigners writing in some other language. If you're going to be a famous author of classic literature, write in English! Preferably American.

So turns out translations are complicated. I settled on Burton Raffel's for The Modern Library because of this but have reservations because of that. I felt better about my choice when I went back and saw that Wood uses what is generally considered the "bad" translation.

I've just begun, but I'm already happy to see Stendhal take on some of my favorite topics, like spite and anger. Here's a couple character descriptions that I could apply to several people I know but won't name here, so if I know you, then it's probably you:

"...by clear signs of self-satisfaction and conceit, topped off by who knows what limitations, what lack of originality. Finally one is aware that his talents are confined to making sure he is paid exactly what he is owed, while paying what he himself owes only at the last possible moment."

Or

"...he was a tall young man, strongly built, with a florid face and great black whiskers--one of those coarse creatures, shameless and loud, that they call, in the provinces, good fellows."

Try these two as well:

"...he had learned by heart the entire New Testament in Latin; he also knew Monsieur de Maistre's On the Pope--and had no more belief in the one than in the other"

Or

"He thought that making a stop at church would be important to his hypocrisy."

Good stuff.

2 comments:

Pete said...

I'm about halfway through the book right now, myself. I'm generally enjoying it, but it kind of comes and goes. The excessive description and exposition really isn't my style (nor the florid language of Julien's romantic interludes at the beginning of the book) but I'm trying to keep an open mind. I can't help thinking that it's a brilliant 200-page novel spread out over 500 pages.

S. Craig Renfroe Jr. said...

Good point, Pete. I'm going to give it some slack because them's were the times. Although, I'm lazily making my way through The Terror and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and those both feel a little glacial at times.