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"So you keep on reading your cursed books, when you ought to be watching the saw?"

Nice passage from Stendhal's The Red and the Black, which I just started over the weekend:
As he approached his mill, Pere Sorel called Julien in his stentorian voice; there was no answer. He saw only his two elder sons, young giants who, armed with heavy axes, were squaring the trunks of fir which they would afterwards carry to the saw. There were completely engrossed in keeping exactly to the black line traced on the piece of wood, from which each blow of the axe sent huge chips flying. They did not hear their father's voice. He made his way to the shed; as he entered it, he looked in vain for Julien in the place where he ought to have been standing, beside the saw. He caught sight of him five or six feet higher up, sitting astride upon one of the beams of the roof. Instead of paying careful attention to the action of the machinery, Julien was reading a book. Nothing could have been less to old Sorel's liking; he might perhaps have forgiven Julien his slender build, little adapted to hard work, and so different from that of his elder brothers; but this passion for reading he detested: he himself was unable to read.

It was in vain that he called Julien two or three times. The attention the young man was paying to his book, far more than the noise of the saw, prevented him from hearing his father's terrifying voice. Finally, despite his years, the father sprang nimbly upon the trunk that was being cut by the saw, and from there on to the cross beam that held up the roof. A violent blow sent flying into the mill lade the book that Julien was holding; a second blow no less violent, aimed at his head, in the form of a box on the ear, made him lose his balance. He was about to fall from a height of twelve or fifteen feet, among the moving machinery, which would have crushed him, but his father caught him with his left hand as he fell.

"Well, idler! So you keep on reading your cursed books, when you ought to be watching the saw? Read them in the evening, when you go and waste your time with the curate."

Julien, though stunned by the force of the blow, and bleeding profusely, went to take up his proper station beside the saw. There were tears in his eyes, due not so much to his bodily pain as to the loss of his book, which he adored.
What a terrific introduction to Julien Sorel. I like him already.

June 14, 2010 in Books | Permalink


You make me want to re-read the book, which I loved enormously when I first read it, in the European Novel 2, a grad class I took in the fall of 1973 at Richmond College.

Our teacher, Prof. Daniel Fuchs, turned to me after something I said in the discussion and said, "So, Mr. Grayson, I see you are every bit as corrupt as Julien Sorel."


Posted by: Richard at Jun 14, 2010 6:59:18 PM

I'm about 70 pages in, and so far Julien is still just a naive dreamer. The plot's a bit sluggish right now, so I'm looking forward to the corruption to liven things up.

Nice comment there from Dr. Fuchs. The nicest thing an English professor ever said to me was when Dan Curley (at the University of Illinois) responded favorably to one of my characters saying "Sorry doesn't change things" by mentioning that he'd love to have that phrase on a plaque.

Posted by: Pete at Jun 16, 2010 12:09:59 PM