Study Guide

The Red and the Black Love

By Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle)

Love

Julien isn't always sure whether or not he's in love… and the same goes for Mathilde de La Mole and Madame de Rênal. By the end of The Red and the Black, though, they all know what love is.

The problem is that love isn't as unchanging as some readers might like it to be. One second, Mathilde loves Julien; the next, she doesn't. Then Julien goes from loving Madame de Rênal to loving Mathilde to loving Madame again. Mathilde ends the book by stealing Julien's severed head and kissing it repeatedly, which just goes to show how much of a tangled hornet's nest love can be in Stendhal's world (and the real world as well).

Questions About Love

  1. By the end of this book, whom do you think Julien loves more? Why?
  2. Why does Mathilde go from loving Julien to not loving him so easily? How does the book explain it?
  3. When he first seduces Madame de Rênal, does Julien know what love really is? Why or why not?
  4. When does Madame de Rênal first decide that she's in love with Julien? What provokes the decision and why?

Chew on This

In The Red and the Black, Stendhal shows us that love is a chaotic, destructive force that creates way more misery than happiness.

The Red and the Black reveals that no matter how high we try to climb in society, love is all that really matters.