Study Guide

The Red and the Black Writing Style

By Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle)

Writing Style

Poetic, but Readable

If you're looking for a writing style to copy, you could do way worse than Stendhal. He does a great job of being poetic without getting overly wordy or difficult in his prose (and this is a guy writing in the uber-flowery 19th Century). His storytelling might be tough to follow, but his writing itself is easily digestible.

We get a good sense of this style in the second paragraph of the novel, where Stendhal describes the French countryside:

A stream that rushes down from the mountains, crossing through Verrières and then pouring itself into the Doubs, powers a good many sawmills. (1.1.2)

Ahh. How refreshing. That sentence is both poetic (the stream "rushes" and "pours," giving us a sense of its speed and volume) and also super-informative (we know where the stream goes, and we know what use it has). The writing is clean and clear—much like that stream…at least before the sawmills get involved.

If you're looking for something that'll trip you up in Stendhal, look to his long descriptions of characters' inner minds. His style is as readable as it gets for writers from his time, but the insides of people's fevered little brainpans can get complicated and messy.

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