If Stendhal is the founder of what Auerbach considers ‘serious realism’, then Le Rouge et le Noir is certainly the most famous example.[1] The novel also carries the title, ‘A Chronicle of 1830’, and is entrenched in its time, the characters being depicted after real models, and life in the provinces and the capital painted in their ‘natural state’.[2] This wanton realism is underlined by its epigraph, attributed to Danton, is ‘Truth. Bitter Truth’.[3]  

The singularity of Le Rouge et le Noir in terms of literary technique is the way in which Stendhal employs what Georges Blin refers to as ‘restrictions de champ’, as the author ensures that he restricts his ‘field of vision’ to that of his protagonist at a given moment.[4] This subjective realism means that the reader discovers the places and people of Verrières and Paris through the eyes, ears and reflections of Julien. When the narrator does intervene it is not as an omniscient objective voice but rather a partial conscience that explains or justifies a feeling or action. Thus towards the end of the novel, after Julien shoots Mme de Rênal, the reader is informed that Julien’s actions were simply those of justifiable vengeance towards someone who had wronged him. Mathilde sees ‘her hero’ through the eyes of an aristocrat as having acted with ‘noble vengeance’ whereas the people ‘stupidly’ prefer a sentimental explanation: that Julien acted through jealousy. The narrator has his own version of events and explains that Julien acted as a man of the people whose passionate ‘energy’ could not have cared less for the stilted prudence of the Parisian upper classes. The act may have been noble but not one a noble could have undertaken.[5]

[1] ‘Insofar as the serious realism of modern times cannot represent man otherwise as embedded in a total reality, political, social, and economic, which is concrete and constantly evolving - as is the case today in any novel or film - Stendhal is its founder.’
Auerbach, Erich, Mimesis, translated by Willard. R. Trask and with an introduction by Edward. W. Said (1953; rpt. Princeton and Oxford, 2003) p. 463.
[2] Stendhal, “Projet d’Article sur Le Rouge et le Noir,” Romans, 2. Vols. Ed. Henri Martineau (Paris: Gallimard, 1952) Vol. 1, p. 704.
[3] ‘La vérité, l’âpre vérité’
[4] Blin, Georges, Stendhal et les problèmes du roman, (1954; rpt. Paris: José Corti, 1998), see part 2, ‘Les Restrictions de Champ’, pp. 115-176.
[5] For discussion of this episode in relation to Stendhal’s literary technique, see Yves Ansel’s ‘Rouge et le Noir (Le)’, entry in the Dictionnaire de Stendhal, (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2003) p. 632.