Stendhal took a lot of time and care in deciding what the title of his novel would be. He first considered
The juxtaposition of these two colors in the title represents the tension between the army and the clergy in the novel. Yet the two institutions are not at odds with each other. Indeed, the Marquis de la Mole tries to form an army led by the Vatican. Instead, the tension involves a career decision that Julien must make. Julien dreams of the military glory of Napoleon and a more adventurous epoch and thus, given the choice, would enlist in the army. But Julien realizes that during the Restoration, the most powerful and influential political leaders belong to the clergy. Julien's hypocritical devotion to the Church and his constant wavering between a life in the clergy and a career in the military are thus implied by the novel's title. The coupling of the two colors can thus be said to restrict Julien's free will in that he only has two choices in life. To rise in French society he can only change in and out of red or black clothing: he can not wear what he wants to. In this context, the two colors also evoke a roulette table. Julien must gamble to make his fortune, but he only has two choices.
Finally, the subtitle, "a chronicle of 1830," is further revealing. Although Stendhal was writing during the 1830 Revolution, the subtitle suggests a historical novel, or chronicle, about something that happened far in the past. This subtitle thus further confines Julien's actions to the events of history. Contemporary readers of Stendhal would have known that the Marquis de la Mole's conspiracy and Julien's desire for military glory during the Restoration were futile because of the impending revolution. Julien's possibilities for success are limited by the evolution of French society implicit in the title.
Stendhal consistently emphasizes the importance of French history throughout
By subtitling the novel a "chronicle of 1830," Stendhal also makes the cast of characters historical archetypes of the political and social environment during the final years of the Restauration. M. Valenod is a typical liberal, while the Marquis represents the dying aristocracy. The course of French history thus establishes and shapes not only their ultimate failures and successes, but the narrative structure of the novel as a whole. In this context, Stendhal's reliance on French history further condemns the "boring" nineteenth century: one must look to the past for excitement and adventure.
Stendhal thought that he had mastered the psychology of love. He designated triangular desire, or love through an intermediary person, as a necessary ingredient to making someone fall in love. For example, Mathilde thinks that Julien loves Mme. de Fervaques, which makes her grow extremely jealous and love Julien even more than before. Julien is aware of the power of triangular desire, demonstrating Stendhal's attempt to introduce psychology into the novel. Traditional romantic novels used love as a simple plot device without any further analysis. Stendhal rejects this tradition by emphasizing the negative aspects of love, such as manipulation, and expressing the power of emotional control. This denial of the basic purity of love represents a watershed moment in nineteenth-century French literature.