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The Red and the Black [Paperback]

Stendhal , Diane Johnson , Burton Raffel
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 11 2004 0812972074 978-0812972078
A Major New Translation

The Red and the Black, Stendhal’s masterpiece, is the story of Julien Sorel, a young dreamer from the provinces, fueled by Napoleonic ideals, whose desire to make his fortune sets in motion events both mesmerizing and tragic. Sorel’s quest to find himself, and the doomed love he encounters along the way, are delineated with an unprecedented psychological depth and realism. At the same time, Stendhal weaves together the social life and fraught political intrigues of post–Napoleonic France, bringing that world to unforgettable, full-color life. His portrait of Julien and early-nineteenth-century France remains an unsurpassed creation, one that brilliantly anticipates modern literature.

Neglected during its time, The Red and the Black has assumed its rightful place as one of the world’s great books, and Burton Raffel’s extraordinary new translation, coupled with an enlightening Introduction by Diane Johnson, helps it shine more brightly than ever before.


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“[Burton Raffel’s] exciting new translation of The Red and the Black blasts Stendhal into the twenty-first century.”
—Salon.com

From the Back Cover

“[Burton Raffel’s] exciting new translation of The Red and the Black blasts Stendhal into the twenty-first century.”
—Salon.com

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The little town of Verrieres might be one of the prettiest in all Franche-Comte. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Raffel Does It Again Aug. 11 2003
Format:Hardcover
Readers in my generation grew up with some pretty awful translations, with even the French and Russian writers often coming off sounding Victorian. We should be grateful for Burton Raffel and other currently active translators (including Richard Pavear and Larissa Volokonsky, who got the vernacular back into Dostoievski) for changing that. It was Raffel who finally enabled me to read and savorDon Quixote, and I'll always thank him for that. Now I also owe him thanks for making Stendahl's uneven but nonetheless great tale of Julien Sorell so engaging and readable.
If any reader out there can make any sense of the mystifying jacket photograph on this book, please share that sense with us. What does it have to do with the book? More to the point, what IS it? Do the torso and the oversized hand belong to the same person, or what?
But, hey, the Modern Library gave us a full cloth binding on this one, so we can forgive the jacket.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Raffel's translation sings! Oct. 24 2003
By Manya
Format:Hardcover
I put off reading this novel for 30 years because I could not get past the first page in prior translations. Raffel has created a highly readable version which moves without getting bogged down in Victorian hyperbole. His addition of modernized expressions detracts in no way from the period of the novel; these additions simply make it more accessible to the modern reader. I was delighted to discover a compelling story, and a very likeable, although fallible hero. The plot reminds me in many ways of Dostoevsky's "Idiot": the author's indictment of the suffocating societal milieu, the sympathetic hero, the various femme fatales, as well Stendhal's delicious skewering of the corrupt powermongering clergy....altogether quite an enjoyable read that I was sorry to see end.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars even a decent adult read April 29 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A book read by most as an adolescent stands the test of time, offering a decent adult read and well written even if somewhat jejeune story line
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lloyd C. Parks's Still the Best Translation Jan. 9 2006
By Bookman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Red and the Black is the greatest novel ever written. I first began reading it six years ago, and I've read it twice a year ever since. I own five different translations: Robert Adams (Norton Critical), Lowell Bair (Bantam Classics), Catherine Slater (Oxford World's Classics), Burton Raffel (Modern Library), and Lloyd C. Parks (Signet Classics).

I use the Parks version as my reading text and use the others for comparison, whenever a particular word or passage seems odd. The Raffel translation is an acceptable substitute, if you're only buying one version; but I like it less because it lacks depth, texture, and flavor, like those bland lattes they sell at Starbucks. It's almost as if Raffel wants you to forget that Stendhal was French, that the characters are French, and the action takes place in France. You could easily switch character and place names and never know the book had been penned by a foreigner.

Note the differences between these two versions of the same passage. Raffel at p. 88 (paper): "She loved him a thousand times more than life itself, and never gave a thought to money." Parks at p. 102-3: "She loved him a thousand times better than life, would have loved him had he been ungrateful and untrue, even if he had belonged to the opposite party, the Bonapartists... and her money meant nothing to her." (Elipsis in original.)

I keep giving Raffel a fair shot at becoming my primary text, but I keep coming back to Parks. Page for page, it's a better read.
63 of 72 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Wretched "Translation" Sept. 22 2006
By rater25 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Modern Library "translation" by Burton Raffel of THE RED AND THE BLACK is actually a vulgar, anachronistic retelling of Stendhal's novel. I recall abandoning it in disgust when the main character refers to his life as a total "blast". MTV was obviously very popular in 1830 France.

Instead, the brilliant Moncrieff translation, as revised by Stendhal scholar Ann Jefferson, is highly recommended (Everyman paperback, ISBN 0460876430).

June, 2011 update: Just read the translation Roger Gard did for Penguin just before his untimely death. It is accurate, fluent, free of Briticisms and has excellent and extensive notes. Highly recommended!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Observant, cynical but flawed Aug. 26 2011
By FictionFan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I wanted very much to like this book and indeed there was much in it to savour and enjoy. The author casts an observant if cynical eye over early nineteenth-century France, the post-Napoleonic era. Through his hero (or perhaps anti-hero), Julian Sorel, he shows us small town, provincial attitudes, takes us into the hierarchy of the Church and then, as Julian's unusual talents allow him to rise, leads us into the top echelons of Paris political and social life. Throughout the author showed the hypocrisy and greed prevalent in every part of society, the jostling for power and social position and the precarious nature of social status in a society still quivering from the upheavals of its recent history.

However, I felt the book had some important flaws too. Julian is a cold, calculating hypocrite (though with occasional flashes of manic passion) and as such I found it hard to empathise with him at any point. His two great love affairs were on-off to such an extreme that it became tedious and repetitive. At least a quarter of the entire novel is taken up with descriptions of how Julien and Mathilde fell in and out of love with each other repeatedly and only once or twice at the same time. I found myself quietly chanting `she loves him, she loves him not' each time I resumed reading. Unfortunately I also `loved him not' but a good deal more constantly than the spoiled, haughty and frankly unstable Mathilde.

There is always an issue with translated novels in that the reader is not able to determine whether any flaws are with the original or the translation. I started to read the Moncrieff translation and while it may have been accurate it was so poorly written as to be almost unreadable. I then moved on to the translation by Burton Raffel, which flowed much more smoothly and had a more literary feel. Overall, though, the book came over as somewhat fragmented, with contradictions from chapter to chapter. How much to blame this on the original or the translator, I am unable to say.

There is sometimes a tendency to assume that in great literature, entertainment comes second to the insight the author gives us into humanity and society. I beg to disagree. If a book fails to engage the reader's sympathies, then I think it is less likely that the author's message will be heard. For me, that was ultimately the problem with this novel. I understand why it is called great; I admire the writing, the observations of a particular time in French history, the descriptions of the various levels of society and I am glad to have read it. But unfortunately, because of my antipathy to the main protagonists, I can't say that I found reading the book a wholly enjoyable experience and, in the end, I was unmoved by Julien's eventual fate.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful March 14 2007
By Alex - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Hideous translation of a brilliant book. Try the translation by Lowell Bair instead - intelligent and crisp.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ambition, piety, and pride all at odds Sept. 9 2006
By Bomojaz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The first great psychological novel ever written, THE RED AND THE BLACK centers around Julien Sorel, a tender and honest young man, but one consumed by ambition, and "filled with imagination and illusion." Napolean is his hero, yet he believes the Church has now rightly re-established its position at the head of society. (Red=color of the French army uniforms; Black=color of the priests' robes.) Julien, an outwardly pious seminary student (he's memorized the entire New Testament), wavers between these two positions. While acting as tutor to her children, he seduces Mme. de Renal; his seduction is carefully plotted, almost as if it were a military campaign. He finally succeeds, but later her husband finds out about it, and Julien leaves. He becomes a secretary to a wealthy landowner and falls in love with his beautiful daughter Mathilde. Just before they are to marry (she is already pregnant) an anonymous letter comes to Mathilde's father revealing the affair between Julien and Mme. de Renal. He now forbids the marriage, and Julien, passionately overwrought, seeks out his former mistress, finds her in a church, and shoots her. He is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death - even though it's later learned that Mme. de Renal recovers fully from the shooting. No pleading by friends will persuade Julien to help himself, and he calmly goes to his death.

Stendhal is a master at analyzing the inner workings of his characters, especially of Julien Sorel. This constant delving into Julien's psychological motivations sometimes causes the plot to slow to a crawl, but it is crucial to the book and to Stendhal's art. Julien is an extremely complex character, at war with the "respectable" society he so wants to be a part of, so critical of his own actions and thoughts yet so shrewd and calculating, many readers find him a figure worth endless study. There is so much to admire here, though I found Julien's meticulous seduction of Mme. de Renal and the final scenes in prison to be the best parts. The power he gains over Mathilde by feigning to be disinterested in her is also masterful. It's a masterpiece, and worth the time necessary to read and digest it all.
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