Study Guide

The Red and the Black Statue of Saint Clement

By Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle)

Statue of Saint Clement

In the heart of the French countryside lies a little church with a holy statue inside it. The statue is apparently so important that kings from foreign countries make a point of seeing it when they travel through the area. We get our first description of this statue when the narrator notes,

[Saint Clement] was lying on the altar, dressed as a young Roman soldier. There was a large wound in his neck, from which blood seemed actually to be flowing. The artist had surpassed himself: the dying eyes, brimming with grace, were half closed […] Seeing the statue, a girl standing next to Julien wept hot tears, one of which fell on his hand. (1.18.72)

It's safe to say that this statue is awe-inspiring to anyone who sees it. This is important because for most of this book, we've encountered people who think they rule the world. But when they're confronted by something more beautiful and powerful than themselves, like God and the saint, and they break down and cry.

Stendhal is trying to remind us here that there are limits to any sort of worldly ambition. We all die, after all, and what good is all the wealth and power in the world once we're gone?

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