Julien Sorel (zhew-LYAH[N] soh-REHL), the son of a lawyer, an opportunist whose brilliant intellect, great ambition, and self-pride elevate him for a time, only to defeat him in the end. The youthful protégé of a local priest in the French town of Verières, Julien becomes the beloved tutor of the mayor’s children and the lover of that aristocratic official’s wife. Brazen, hypocritical, but shrewd, this contradictory hero espouses Napoleonic sentiments yet believes that his own salvation is through the church. Pushed by scandal into a seminary, he proudly stands aloof from its politics and manages to become a secretary to one of the first men in France. Though he is insensitive to all feelings, his intellect again raises him in esteem to the point where he seduces as well as is seduced by the nobleman’s daughter, a lively, intellectual young woman. Playing both ends against the middle—the middle being a respected position and a respectable income—he brings about his own downfall through attempted murder of his first mistress after she has revealed his villainy to his noble benefactor.
Madame de Rênal
Madame de Rênal (deh reh-NAHL), Julien Sorel’s first mistress and greatest love, a beautiful, compassionate, though bigoted woman. Although she vacillates always between religiosity and passion, she truly loves the ascetic-looking younger man and dies shortly after he has been executed for his attempt to kill her. Her allegiance to the tutor is the more remarkable because of her clever deceptions, necessary to prevent an immediate tragedy brought about by her husband’s vindictiveness. In the end, religiosity predominates; she is torn by anguish, remorse, and guilt and dies while embracing her children three days after the death of her lover.
M. de Rênal
M. de Rênal, the miserly mayor and village aristocrat, who desperately seeks...
(The entire section is 830 words.)