Verrières. (vehr-ee-YER). One of the prettiest little towns in the Franche-Comté, a province in eastern France, located south of Lorraine and north of Switzerland. Both the province’s main river, the Doubs, and its mountain range, the Jura, figure in Stendhal’s initial description of setting. The Verrières he presents, however, does not actually correspond to any of the towns by that name in the Doubs valley; instead, it seems a fictionalized version of Stendhal’s own hometown, Grenoble—south of the Franche-Comté—which he detested as parochial and repressive. The novel’s counterpart to Grenoble stagnates in bourgeois moneymaking, vanity, and hypocrisy. Verrières’s many walls, its clipped trees, and finally the prison cell to which Julien is confined at the end of the novel symbolize the repressiveness of society and especially of such petit-bourgeois towns; by contrast, the several episodes throughout the novel in which he contentedly views the world from above—the mountains outside Verrières, the top of a cathedral tower—mark not only his solitary contentment in nature but also his moral elevation.
*Besançon (buh-zohn-SOHN). Capital city of the Franche-Comté, nestled beneath a hillside fortress. This locale marks a movement for Julien into the broader world in the last third of book 1. As a key nineteenth century military center where Julien enters not the army but a seminary, Besançon offers scope for both his red (soldierly) and his black (clerical) aspirations. In the Besançon seminary, as in Verrières, Julien is alienated from his peers by his finer values.
(The entire section is 686 words.)