Five Best: Books On Sparring Partners
The Red and the Black By Stendhal (1830)
1. Arguably the first authentic psychological novel, “The Red and the Black” centers on the career of Julien Sorel, a young Frenchman from the provinces who, like his hero Napoleon, is striking, intelligent and calculating—striking enough to seduce women above his social station; intelligent enough to memorize the entire New Testament; calculating enough to become private secretary to the Marquis de la Mole. Julien becomes the lover of the marquis’s aloof daughter, Mathilde, and rises to the highest tier of Parisian aristocratic society. His first and greatest love, however, is the wife of the mayor of Verrières, Mme. Renal, “a tall well-made woman, who had been the local beauty.” The heart of the novel is the web of subterfuges, quarrels and reunions that comprise Julien and Mme. Renal’s love affair. Near the stunning ending, Stendhal defines the novel as “a mirror carried along a high road. At one minute it reflects your vision of the azure skies, at another the mire of the puddles at your feet.” His finest novel is a handbook for both romantic dreamers and crass opportunists.