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"The Red and the Black" by Stendhal
A chain of events starts, and Julien and Mathilde are eventually settled to be married; Julien is ecstatic, as he is almost a noble man – and here the reader can see his true face. The marriage is soon cancelled, though, as a letter from Madame de Renal arrives; the letter says that Julien is a scoundrel, wishing only to find power through emotionally weak noble women. Julien, the proud and fiery son of a carpenter, rushes to Verrieres once again, and tries to kill Madame de Renal, the woman he once loved. Although failing to kill her, Julien is eventually incarcerated and sentenced to death. Mathilde de la Mole shows her love to him, by visiting Julien during his final days of life, and by giving the last kiss on the lips to Julien... when his head is no longer joined with the body.
The Red and the Black is a book that shows how wretched a human soul can become if it only seeks power and works only to pursue empty ambition. But on the bright side, the animate character of Julien Sorel communicates how pride can work for those who are true to it.
Stendhal does preserve humanity within Julien, however; perhaps that Julien, with all his ambition and manipulations, is even more human than the aristocrats surrounding him. That is why The Red and the Black is so appealing even two hundred years after the book was written: Stendhal tells a great story, while still making it worthy by providing the historical knowledge, which the 21st century lacks.
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