Chapter XIX
June 28, 2005 11:38 PM   Subscribe

Explain Chapter 19 to me. I'm reading Stendhal's "The Red and the Black" and this chapter leaves me puzzled. Could someone who knows French history tell me what's going on?

Short summary: Monsieur de La Mole asks Sorel to come with him to a secret meeting with twelve gentlemen. He should memorize everything that is being said. The gentlemen discuss politics, but nothing is said openly, everything is just hinted at. At the end it seems like they want a foreign power to invade France. (This is book 2, chapter 19, entitled "The Discussion")

I enjoy reading "Red and Black", it really is as good as they say, but when I read this discussion my wheels just spin. It seems you would need a fairly good idea of the political situation at the time - who is fighing whom, what is the church's position, what are the current hopes and fears, etc. - to understand it.
posted by Termite to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I only know a little of the history in question but can furnish a couple of pointers:

Pitt here refers to William Pitt the Younger.
Jacobins were hard-line revolutionaries, or their sympathisers.
— The Richelieu mentioned would be Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis.
— Kleber, Hoche, Jourdan and Pichegru were all generals.
Cathelineau was a counter-revolutionary.
— The bit about Gustavus-Adolphus and the Protestant Princes refers back to the Thirty Years' War. Gustavus-Adolphus was a Swedish king who played an important battle-winning rôle for the Protestant side in that conflict.

There’s a project-Gutenberg text version of the book here (search the page for the phrase ‘The footman burst in,’ to find it). Oddly enough, in this edition, the chapter in question is Book 2, Chapter 22.
posted by misteraitch at 4:25 AM on June 29, 2005

Thanks, misteraitch! I knew the chapter number would probably differ from other editions, but I put it in anyway, as a rough guide to what part of the story I'm talking about.

For a contemporary audience, or an audience familiar with French history, this chapter is - I guess - elegantly written, everything is just touched upon, lightly, there is no heavy-handed politicizing or explanation. Since I posted my question I've been reading an overview of French history 1800-1840 and those sure were interesting times. I can understand the "Ultras" and the liberals, but the Bonapartists, what do they want?
posted by Termite at 4:46 AM on June 29, 2005

I don't think it's the case that "nothing is said openly, everything is just hinted at"; pretty much everything is said openly, you're just not familiar with the players, which is completely understandable. The whole thing is summed up here:

"I have a mission; heaven has said to me: 'You shall lay down your head on the scaffold, or you shall reestablish the Monarchy in France, and reduce the Chambers to what Parliament was under Louis XV'..."

These are extreme ("ultra") reactionaries and royalists who want to return France to the state of absolutist bliss it supposedly enjoyed before those meddling Jacobins ruined everything with their Revolution. Stendhal gives an emblem of their views with the book Sorel finds lying around, "Du Pape, by M. de Maistre"—Joseph de Maistre was the great (evilly great, if you're not a reactionary) theoretician of the extreme right. (The Wikipedia entry basically presents the Catholic view of him; I highly recommend Isaiah Berlin's article "Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism," available in the collection Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty.)

There's a brief summary of the Restoration here and a useful timeline (with Red and the Black references) here; this review provides a useful analysis of the politics of the time with emphasis on the Liberals and where they went wrong. You might also find the 1911 Britannica article on Charles X interesting.

Oh, and the Bonapartists wanted the return of Napoleon's family to power (Nappy himself having died in 1821); at this point their candidate was "l'aiglon" (the 'Little Eagle'), briefly Napoleon II, living under the watchful eye of Metternich at the Vienna court as the duc de Reichstadt. After he died in 1832, Nappy's nephew Louis Napoleon became head of the family, eventually taking power as Napoleon III after the 1848 Revolution. (Revolutionaries never get what they want.)
posted by languagehat at 9:24 AM on June 29, 2005

Thanks! "Red and Black" must be set sometime after Napoleon is out of the picture and before the July revolution (it was published 1830). I guess the twelve men in the room must be Ultras, noblemen that most of them seem to be, and I guess the church was on their side. Correct me if I'm wrong. This period in French history is a fascinating conflict, with many conflicting parties, not like the simple good guys vs bad guys stories we're often given. And Sorel in the middle of it all, only out for himself, like Gollum.

From a glance at the New York Rewiev article: Isiah Berlin was alive in 1990? Well, whuddaya know...
posted by Termite at 11:10 AM on June 29, 2005

It's presumably set in 1830 ("ripped from the headlines!"), judging by this:
'If your characters do not talk politics,' the publisher retorts, 'they are no longer Frenchmen of 1830, and your book ceases to hold a mirror, as you claim....'

Isiah Berlin was alive in 1990?

He lived till 1997.
posted by languagehat at 12:28 PM on June 29, 2005

'If your characters do not talk politics,' the publisher retorts, 'they are no longer Frenchmen of 1830, and your book ceases to hold a mirror, as you claim

Yeah, I remember it now, it's right there on the page ...
posted by Termite at 10:59 PM on June 29, 2005

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