Study Guide

The Red and the Black Gender

By Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle)

Gender

The masculine ways people thought necessary, for a man to be handsome, made her afraid. (1.6.26)

One of the first things that attracts Madame de Rênal to Julien is that his youthful looks remind her of a girl more than a man. When she first meets him, she even wonders if he's a girl disguised as a boy. Julien wouldn't appreciate this, but it's actually what makes Madame feel safe enough around him to get intimate with him.

In the first years of their marriage, confidences about these kinds of fears and sorrow, forced out of her by immense need, had been met by her husband with a bout of coarse laughter, a shrug, and some platitude about the foolishness of women. (1.7.11)

Madame de Rênal isn't comfortable talking about her feelings with her husband. Every time she does, he just ignores her and talks about how irrational and emotional women are in general. It's hardly the support Madame is looking for.

"Like all women […] There's always something in need of repair, in those machines!" (1.8.25)

Monsieur de Rênal never misses an opportunity to talk about how foolish women are. It seems like there's nothing his wife can do that doesn't inspire him to make a sexist comment.

Completely caught up in these fierce ideas, the kindly words of the two ladies—what little of them he bothered to make out—annoyed him: they were senseless, foolish, weak-minded and, in a word, feminine. (1.9.36)

When Julien's in a bad mood, he doesn't like hanging around with Madame de Rênal and her cousin, Madame Derville. Frankly, he dislikes everything they're saying because he doesn't think they're smart or rational enough. He finds their conversation bland and superficial, and he blames it on the fact that they're women.

Julien had never found himself so close to these awesome instruments of feminine artillery. (1.16.29)

Julien has never before appreciated all of the little weapons and maneuvers women can use to sting a man's pride and manipulate him over time. He's glad to learn about this, because he hopes to avoid having these weapons work on him in the future.

"How can anyone expect good sense from a woman?" (1.21.40)

This is as sexist a comment as you're going to find. It shouldn't be surprising that it comes from Madame de Rênal's husband, who once again jumps at the opportunity to make generalizations about women. Little does he know that Madame de Rênal is trying to save him from the embarrassment of having the whole town find out that she's been cheating on him.

Had she been less in fashion, they might almost have said that her way of talking was a bit overcolored to be true feminine delicacy. (2.11.9)

Mathilde likes to tell it like it is, mainly because she's bored with all the prim and proper mannerisms of high society. If she weren't so powerful, more people would probably talk about how un-feminine she is. After all, the people of 19th-century France weren't big fans of women who spoke their minds.

Madame de Fervaques saw the tears; they were in such sharp contrast to his usual masculine steadiness that the heart of this great lady, so long steeped in all the most corroding effects of social-climber pride, was moved. (2.30.24)

Madame de Fervaques usually wouldn't give someone like Julien Sorel the time of day. But when she sees him crying at the opera, she realizes that he might have a sensitive, even feminine soul, and she's attracted to it. In fact, many of the women who are attracted to Julien in this novel are attracted by something that seems "feminine" about him, whether it's his looks or his actions.

"I'd be a wretched fool, believing I could stand two months in this disgusting place, the butt of slanders and humiliations invented by patricians, with my only consolation being the curses of this crazy woman." (2.42.18)

One of the reasons Julien doesn't want to appeal his death sentence is because he can't stand the thought of having his wife Mathilde visit him day after day for the next two months. This is pretty sad, considering how deeply Mathilde loves him. The phrase "crazy woman" helps show that Julien no longer see Mathilde as a person, but just as a crazy woman whom he'd like to get rid of.

The presiding judge had to deal with a storm of ticket requests; every lady in town wanted to be there; portraits of Julien were being sold in the streets. (2.41.3)

One of the things that Julien has going for him in his trial is the support of his hometown's women. Little does he know, though, that these women support him because he looks kind of girly to them, and they don't believe that anyone so feminine-looking could be capable of attempted murder.

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