You are here:   Columns >  Guest Speaker > The modern Julien Sorel

Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron: Is Brigitte Macron's Madame de Rênal? (US State Department)

There is much that is remarkable about Emmanuel Macron — whether you admire him or not. A growing proportion of French citizens appear to be losing faith in him, but his combination of intellectual brilliance, personal boldness and ruthlessness mark him out as exceptional among modern politicians. From afar, we tend to see him as a decisive figure above political party, best summed up in the uniquely French description of “Bonapartist”.

Yet there are those of us who find there is something even more remarkable about him, in his very human and personal back-story — a story curiously enough reflecting that greatest of all Bonapartist novels, Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir. This novel of the revolutionary period in France tells the story of Julien Sorel, the talented social-climbing country boy who seeks unsuccessfully to work his way up between the culture and institutions of post-Napoleonic France symbolised by revolutionary red and clerical black. Julien’s story ends ignominiously at the guillotine.

It is reported that pride of place in Emmanuel Macron’s presidential office goes to his own copy of Le Rouge et Le Noir. What a cultured and ironic reference, we might assume, in keeping with the image this super-educated president wishes to project. Does he recognise in himself the personal characteristics that enabled Sorel to fly so close to the sun before he crashed and burned? And is he equally aiming to show us that he means to escape the fate of Sorel, achieving the distinction and glory of Charles de Gaulle, his first Fifth Republic predecessor, whose memoir is the other book on display in his office?

There is, however, another dimension of Le Rouge et le Noir that deserves attention — more than it has received so far, even in France. Much of the narrative of the novel centres on Sorel’s melodramatic love affair with the wife of the mayor of the provincial town where his big break occurs, Madame de Rênal.

She is, for a country boy, a sophisticated and dazzling catch, if offering a foretaste of Emma Bovary in her self-dramatisation and sentimentality. Sorel is transformed by her from the shy tutor imported into the grand household into the fearless lover who cuckolds the most important man in town — albeit with some crass and ridiculous exploits along the way.

Madame de Rênal represents a critical stage in his evolution, the older woman who will enchant and educate him before being conquered and betrayed by him.
View Full Article
November 3rd, 2018
11:11 AM
Le Macron is so busy with minutiae. Keeping busy while the devout get on with their business. Meanwhile France is still waiting to be rescued.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.