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Julien Sorel

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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 status by hiring a tutor for his children. Vulgar and greedy to an extreme degree, this boorish landowner is elevated by the marquis de La Mole, who later becomes Julien’s employer. He loses his wife to a commoner’s love and his position to his republican enemy.

Mathilde de La Mole

Mathilde de La Mole (mah-TEELD deh lah mohl), a proud, intelligent aristocrat destined to become a duchess but fated to love out of her class. Desirous of the unexpected and bored with the conventionality of her life, she at first seeks distraction in lovemaking with Julien Sorel. When he pretends boredom, she pursues him shamelessly. Her pregnancy sets off a chain of tragic events that will leave her unborn child without name or father. After Julien’s execution, her romantic nature causes her to imitate the deed of a famous ancestress; she buries her lover’s head with her own hands and decorates his cave tomb with marble so that it resembles a shrine.

The Marquis de La Mole

The Marquis de La Mole, a peer of France and the wealthiest landowner in the province. He is a subtle, learned aristocrat who through caprice gambles on a young man’s genius, through kindness makes a gentleman of him, and through pride in family negotiates his downfall. Although he admires his brilliant secretary, the marquis can never rid himself of his...

(The entire section contains 830 words.)

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Critical Essays