A Nineteenth Century Point of View from France…Scarlet and Black by Stendhal



“Julien will be a notable worker in our Lord’s vineyard. He is not lacking in memory or intelligence and he is thoughtful. But will his vocation last? Is he sincere?”

I have been living in 19th century Paris for the past week, viewing it through the eyes of Julien Sorel who is Stendhal’s hero in Scarlet and Black. I have been held captive by his actions every minute of our acquaintance.

Julien begins his life as many things: a peasant, a carpenter’s son, a Latin scholar, the lover of the Mayor’s wife (Madame de Rhenal) at age twenty. But, when he goes to seminary, and then eventually on to become secretary for the Marquis de la Mole, Julien becomes a Parisian dandy.

Not that he can compete with the rich young gentlemen of the day, who bore the Marquis’ daughter, Mathilde, to death. No, Julien adheres to liberal views which he is not shy about sharing; he is also aware of the hypocrisy he exhibits in not having enough independent wealth for even his daily bread.

In fact, he feels that all priests are hypocritical, and it isn’t until the final chapters of the novel that Julien believes in God himself. He has been far too preoccupied with love affairs, social status, and the glory he has found in living as the nobility do.

Who can say how deep was his love for Madame de Renal? Surely at the time they felt their love to be true, but it could not be sustained with her a married woman. Probably it was inevitable that he fall in love with the Marquis’ daughter at his next place of employment. But, you can see how that love could be called into question as well, once her father sees Julien’s penniless status as compared to the Marquis’ power and riches. All of which Julien could inherit upon marrying Mathilde.

Stendhal makes us look at status and ambition, while examining the priests and nobility, in this novel which often struck me as overly dramatic. Yet, I can forgive a novel written in 1830 for making me want to cry out, “You vile brutes!” after certain passages. The story is what makes it compelling, as I alternatively cheered for Julien and longed to slap him for his stupidity. What has changed between people of his era and people of today?

As I read, I marked quotes from Stendhal that seemed particularly insightful. Many of them apply to French culture today as I think back on the times that I have been in Paris. Below are some of the passages I highlighted.

On priesthood: “I’m confiding this detail to you so that you will have no illusions about what awaits you in the priesthood. If you are thinking of paying court to those in authority, then your everlasting damnation is assured. You may get on in the world, but you’ll have to do things which will harm the poor and needy. You’ll have to flatter the sub-prefect the Mayor, and, in short, any man of importance, and make yourself the servant of his passions. This way of behaviour, which the world calls savoir-vivre, may possibly, for a layman, be not entirely incompatible with salvation. But in our calling, a man has to choose between success in this world or the next – there is no middle way.”

On being a freethinker: “In their eyes he was convicted of the heinous vice of thinking for himself and of forming his own judgements instead of blindly following authority and example.”

On attitude: “Have you forgotten Horace’s nil mirari (never show enthusiasm)? Just consider how all this tribe of lackeys, seeing you standing here, will make fun of you; they’ll see in you one of their equals unjustly placed above them. Under cover of good-nature, of giving you sage advice and guiding you in the right direction, they’ll be trying to trip you into making some gross blunder.”

On speaking: “By the way, don’t let these Parisians hear the sound of your voice. If you say a word they’ll find out a way of making you look ridiculous. It’s a special knack of theirs.”

On entertaining guests: “The Marquis was absolutely correct in his behaviour to his wife; he took care to see that her drawing-room was adequately furnished with guests – not with peers, for he found his new made associates insufficiently noble to be entertained at his house as friends, and not amusing enough to be received in an inferior footing.

On attire: “Young Parisian women are not very fond of people of a certain age, especially when they do not dress very smartly.”

On facial expressions: “A melancholy air can never be good form; what you want is to look bored. If you’re melancholy, it means you want something you haven’t got, or there’s something in which you haven’t succeeded. That’s an admission of inferiority. On the other hand, if you’re bored, it means that the person who has vainly tried to please you is your inferior. Realize, my dear fellow, what a grave mistake you’re making.”

On conversations: “The policy of the government in power, which forms the main topic of conversation in middle-class houses, is never touched on in the houses of people of the Marquis’s rank, except at moments of great emergency…Provided you did not treat God, the clergy, the King, or anyone holding public office as a matter for jest; provided you did not speak in praise of Beranger, the newspapers of the opposite party, Voltaire, Rousseau, or anyone allowing himself any freedom of speech; provided, above all, that you never mentioned politics – then you were free to discuss anything you pleased.”

On belonging: “In Paris, people are civil enough to hide their laughter, but you always remain a stranger.”

(I read this book for Paris in July hosted by Tamara. It also applies to one of the books I have listed to read for The Classics Club.)


Fourth of July; Let Freedom Ring


I missed my son when I woke up this morning. He is a U. S. Marine, and ever since he signed up two years ago our freedom has become especially dear to me.

My husband and I sat over coffee this morning remembering the parades of our youth, sitting on the sidewalk curb in great anticipation for the whole thing to start. We’d wave at the Mayor of the town, our friends in the band, and run out into the street to collect candy which was thrown by the city council. I don’t know if it’s still like that today. Now I stay home and bake cherry pies.

Every part of our lives has a season. There is a time to be a little kid who enjoys crowds, and there is a time to sit in prayer and gratefulness for the United States of America.

May she always be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Paris in July…One of The Reasons I Love to Blog In July

Paris in July 6 - floral

Tamara is hosting Paris in July again this year and has suggested we write up our intentions here. It is such fun to look over everyone’s plans, to mark off possibilities on my own personal list and add a few more from others’.

I have a new perfume to write about, an unexpected present from my husband who gave it to me under the term “end of year present” when it’s really because he’s such an excellent man. A hint? The designer from whose house it came was around when Dior began and just passed away this June.

Also, I have longed to read Stendhal’s The Scarlet and The Black since I was twelve years old and saw it in the stack of novels my mother brought on our trip to France. I tried it then, as I delved into most of her literature, but it didn’t quite suit me. Now I am three quarters of the way through and marking every other page. You’d be surprised how much a French novel set in the nineteenth century applies to today.

And on a much lighter note, I’m toying with reading the true story contained in Almost French by Sarah Turnbull.

There may be more novels pertaining to Paris in July, in fact I hope that there are. Some of my favorite books of the summer have come from this particular event, including Bonjour Tristesse, A Moveable Feast, Therese Raquin, and Eugenie Grandet.

Will you be reading anything French in July?

Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki


“…I was taken in by Miss Naomi, but the truth is, it was my own foolishness.”

I couldn’t help but think of Contempt by Alberto Moravia as I was reading Naomi. Although the first is written by an Italian author, and the later is Japanese, both novels address marriage and the disaster it can become.

When Joji meets Naomi at the Diamond Cafe she is a teenager whom he sees as “ingenuous and naive, shy and melancholy…” He determines to make an educated woman out of her, a women who is knowledgeable in music and English, a woman who is refined and genteel. He pays for lessons, and her extensive wardrobe, and everything she desires even though he quickly runs through the savings account he has been so diligent about building. What he doesn’t expect is that she will become a rough, extravagant, insolent woman who takes advantage of him at every turn.

Their marriage quickly dissolves into shambles. At first he is unaware of her deceptions, the way that she carries on with other young men behind his back. But even when it all comes to light, he is unable to let her go. In fact, he completely debases himself so that she will continue to live with him; there is nothing he won’t do for her presence in his life.

It his hard to understand such sacrifice. Joji himself admits his foolishness, his powerlessness in the face of his obsession. And so we are left wondering about the influence of our emotions, thinking about the effect they can have in a relationship when one has forsaken himself for the object of his obsession.


Find TJ’s review at My Book Strings and Naomi’s review at Consumed by Ink.


Wait a Minute…I thought This Was A Book Blog


It’s hard to blog on this much medication, especially when I rarely take an aspirin, so please excuse the lack of interaction from me to your posts and comments. I’ll be around again soon.

Last year I broke a tooth, horizontally, underneath a crown; there was nothing to do but yank it out and get an implant, the process for which I’ve been undertaking since last August. I will spare you the details of several bone implants, the failed post which was taken out December 23, and the redo on Tuesday. Every day is better, and I feel confident that this time will be a success.

But, it’s hard to blog on Vicodin.

What has helped me, more than the pain killers, is to lie curled on the couch with ice pack applied and A Clash of Kings in hand. Many years ago I read The Game of Thrones, and now my son’s obsession with the mini-series has caused me to pick up the novels again.

There are a few times in my life when the stories of a series absorbed me completely. When I was in Middle School, I tore through The Lord of The Rings, marking down passages in The Return of The King I still refer to. I was in High School in 1976, and that was the time of John Jakes’ Bicentennial series. I read each novel as it came out in a matter of days. And now, I have the story of the kings and their secrets, the schemes and wiles of the myriad of characters from Harranhal to Storm’s End. I’m practically finished with Volume Two, and longing to begin Volume 3, while remembering that I’ve promised to read Naomi by Tanizaki for June’s end.

And, don’t forget that July holds Boredom by Alberto Moravia to be discussed July 3-5, as well as Paris in July hosted by Tamara of Thyme for Tea. If we’re looking still further down the road, we find Roofbeam Reader’s event, Austen in August.

But for now, I need to crawl back to my leather sofa and see what those kings have been up to in my absence.

A Taste of Summer: Homemade Lemonade






Combine in a saucepan:

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of water

rind of two lemons cut into pieces

Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Boil about 7 minutes. Cool.


1 cup of lemon juice (5 to 6 lemons)

4 cups of ice water

Pour over ice in pitcher or tall glasses.

Amount: 6 to 8 servings

(From the Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook published by Macmillan in 1950, the cookbook of my youth, found fortuitously by my mother at Restoration Hardware in 1999. Find more weekend cooking at Beth Fish Reads.)

Reader For Hire by Raymond Jean (translated by Adriana Hunter)


Young woman available to read to you in your own home. Works of literature, non-fiction, any sort of book you like.

Ever since I distributed novels to the residents of Manor Care for World Book Night 2014, I have thought about reading to people in my retirement. There was such a need for it, such a hunger for not only literature but attention, that I often think about volunteering to read to the infirm when I’m no longer teaching.

In this novel, Marie-Constance follows her friend Francoise’s idea to read to the ill, handicapped, old or single in their own home. And so Marie puts an advertisement in the paper of her small French town to do just that. After all, her husband, Philippe, is “anything but destructive” and does not object to her plan.

Nor does he object to her intimacy with managing director Michel Dautrand, who apparently wants more than a reader now that he is single. In fact, each of the persons to whom Marie Constance reads, seems to want more than simply a reader.

In Marie-Constance’s mind, “A reader should read, and read out loud, whatever is requested.” This is what occurs to her when an elderly magistrate asks her to read the Marquis de Sade; after all, reading “any sort of book you like” is what her advertisement said that she would do.

Furthermore, at the close of the book, she wants to tell Roland Sora, the literature tutor who has advised her on which text to read to which listener, this: “I like to think I’m choosing passages to read, but they’re the ones choosing me. It’s all a very unusual adventure, a misadventure rather, and I’ve had all too much proof of that.”

And so Raymond Jean brings important questions for any of us readers to ponder. How do we choose what it is that we read? Is there a sort of course we follow unwittingly, that the books seem to choose us? And, is there a boundary past which we dare not go especially when reading out loud to someone else?

I loved this book for allowing me to view the inside of another bibliophile’s imagination, both the author’s and the reader’s he created. I loved this book for the titles it presented according to whom was being read aloud to.

For the fifteen year old Eric, a paralyzed spasmodic, Marie-Constance read Guy de Maupassant’s short stories (in particular The Hand). But, Eric also requested Baudelaire, and Francis Ponge’s poem titled Dressing Things Up. For the Hungarian Countess Pazmany, Marie-Constance came bearing Zola’s The Masterpiece, although the elderly woman requested Marx’ Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. To managing director Michel Dautrand, she read Claude Simon’s book Lesson in Dying. And to the properate manager’s daughter, Clorinde, she reads Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 

There is not much that would induce me to pick up Lewis Carroll again, as Tom and I were discussing in our read along of Little, Big. But, I have already downloaded the collection of Maupassant’s short stories which I eagerly anticipate reading this summer. (Perhaps for Paris in July should it come round again. Discussions are already taking place.)

Find more thoughts on Reader For Hire by Claire here.


Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World by Haruki Murakami (And, Here’s To Beginning The Japanese Literature Challenge 9!)


“Well, it’s like this. Deep in your consciousness there’s this core that is imperceptible to yourself. In my case, the core is a town. A town with a river flowing through it and a high brick wall surrounding it. None of the people in the town can leave. Only unicorns can go in and out. The unicorn absorbs the egos of the townpeople like blotter paper and carry them outside the wall. So the people in the town have no ego, no self. I live in the town – or so the story goes. I don’t know any more than that, since I haven’t actually seen any of this with my own eyes.” (p. 359)

And that, from the first person point of view of our narrator, is about as succinct a description of this bizarre book as I can record. Bizarre, but of course wonderful at same time.

When the novel opens we are in an elevator, an elevator as big as an office, which travels so smoothly it is hard to tell if it is moving at all. It opens to reveal a chubby, lovely seventeen year old girl dressed entirely in pink, who takes him to a dark abyss into which he must jump in order to meet an old man in “a secret laboratory behind a subterranean waterfall just to escape inquisitive eyes.”

The old man is the girl’s grandfather, a biologist who says he is researching the mammalian palate. Apparently he has hired our nameless narrator, later called a Dreamreader, to launder and shuffle numbers by converting them in his brain.

Two entities are at war with each other over data; one is the Calcutecs who protect information, the other is the Semiotecs who steal information. Here, in part, lies the hard-boiled detective stuff, for when our narrator is given a skull from the old man as a present, it is the Semiotecs who break into his apartment to steal it. Apparently, this skull has value for reasons not entirely clear to us. (Only later do we discover that this is where the minds are kept.)

Alternating chapters with the grandfather, dark slimy tunnels, a seventeen year old girl and our narrator, are parallel chapters in which he dwells in the Town. The Town has a Wall, and a River, a Gatekeeper and a Pond. But, it doesn’t have anyone’s shadow. Those who dwell in the town must be severed from their shadows, which are sent to exile. “As the Gatekeeper warned you,” the old officer continues, “one of the conditions of this Town is that you cannot possess a shadow. Another is that you cannot leave. Not as long as the Wall surrounds the Town.”

The Town resembles Stepford to me, or the land where It dwells in A  Wrinkle in Time. It does next seem that its inhabitants (such as the Colonel, the Gatekeeper, the Librarian) are allowed personal choice, or freedom to be themselves. In fact, it seems as if they have been robbed of emotions which make life less than orderly. The Librarian, in fact, is unfulfilled. No matter how much she consumes for dinner, she is never satiated. She claims it is because she has a gastric disorder, but I think the emptiness reflects her heart, rather than her stomach.

Our narrator’s shadow tells him:

“Just now, you spoke of the Town’s perfections. Sure, the people here-the Gatekeeper aside-don’t hurt anyone. No one hurts each other, no one has wants. All are contented and at peace. Why is that? It’s because they have no mind.”

“That much I know too well,” I say.

“It is by relinquishing their mind that the Townfolk lose time; their awareness becomes a clean slate of eternity. As I said, no one grows old or dies. All that’s required is that you strip away the shadow that is the grounding of the self and watch it die. Once your shadow dies, you haven’t a problem in the world. You need only to skim off the discharges of the mind that rise each day.”

We read this novel to look at parallel universes which Haruki Murakami presents to us. We read it to dwell in the fantastic, and finally, to ponder the mystery of it all. The Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of The World won the Tanizaki Prize in 1985. Part science fiction, part fantasy, part “hard-boiled” detective (influenced by Murakami’s admiration for Raymond Chandler), this novel is all Murakami.

Some favorite quotes from this book:

They who never wanted family are now lonely old men.

Maybe no one finds it, or even misses it, but fairness is like love. What is given has nothing to do with what we seek.


With this novel begins the Japanese Literature Challenge 9. It runs from June, 2015 through January, 2016, and for the challenge you “must” read only one piece of Japanese literature. I have listed the people who indicated interest, or said they would jump in with both feet, below the button. I hope that anyone else who desires to read Japanese literature will join us in our discoveries. How excited I am to begin! Welcome! Please find the review site here.



Gary at Pomes All Sizes
MarinaSofia at findingtimetowrite
Carol at Brilliant Years
Jacqui at Jacqui Wine’s Journal
Sakura at Chasing Bawa
Claire at Word by Word
TJ at My Book Strings
Jackie at Farmlane Books
JoV at JoV’s Book Pyramid
Suko at Suko’s Notebook
Iliana at Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life
Kelly at Orange Pekoe Reviews
Ally at Snow Feathers
Terri at Terri Talks Books
Rare Bird at a murder of crows
Cathy at 746 Books
Akylina at The Literary Sisters
Edgar at Simple Images 2
Brona at Brona’s Books
James at James Reads Books
Mee of Bookie Mee
Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza

It Isn’t Summer Without My Grandmother’s Potato Salad


 I wish that I could meet you in person, chat about books across our easy chairs, and serve you a plate of the potato salad I just made.

If you are used to American potato salad, made with bacon and a jar of mayonnaise, you would not believe how good this recipe is. Deceptively simple, it contains these ingredients:

  • Yukon gold potatoes (or small red skinned potatoes)
  • green onions
  • vinegar and oil
  • salt and pepper

You wash and boil the potatoes until they are only slightly soft. Peel them when they’re cool. Layer them thinly sliced with the onions, oil and vinegar. salt and pepper. You chill the bowl when it’s all prepared; when you serve it, and eat it, you know that summer has finally arrived.

It’s the taste of my youth, and as my mother says, “How lovely it is to eat your memories.”

Find more weekend cooking here.