One of his five best books on lovers touching hands, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Red and the BlackRead about the other books on the list.
by Stendhal (1830)
The story of a young man's rise in 19th-century Paris would proceed along predictable lines if it weren't layered with Stendhal's piercing genius. He takes Julien Sorel, a naïve carpenter's son from the provinces, and hurls him into a universe of treachery and double-dealing. Torn between the army and the church, Julien, who has no less kindness than gumption in his heart, settles for seduction. One evening he reaches for the hand of his employer's wife. Shocked but unwilling to cause an uproar, she withdraws it. The next evening, he vows to try holding her hand again or else blow his brains out. When they are both sitting out in the garden, he reaches for it, and again she pulls away. Undaunted, he seizes her hand and holds it with "convulsive strength." This is not an amorous pass but a martial siege. Stendhal never says outright that she yields; rather he says something that only the passive voice conveys in English: "A final effort was made to withdraw it, but in the end, this hand remained in his." It turns out the lady was more in love with Julien than he ever dreamed. As for his feelings, the jury is still out.
The Red and the Black is among John Banville's five best books on early love and the flush of infatuation, Warren Adler's five best books about ambition, and Norman Mailer's top ten works of literature.