A BBC Radio drama of Stendhal’s masterpiece plus bonus documentary.

Both a sweeping chronicle of 19th-century France and a coming-of-age story of a young, idealistic social climber, The Red and the Black is one of the great works in world literature, and widely considered to be the first psychological novel.

It charts the misadventures and romantic escapades of Julien Sorel, a timber miller’s son who idolises Napoleon and dreams of military glory. But post-Waterloo, the path to power does not lie with the army (the ‘red’), but the Church (the ‘black’), so he decides to study for the priesthood. Then an opportunity arises to further increase his status as tutor to the mayor’s children and when the mayor’s wife, Mme de Renal, falls in love with him, he seduces her.

Their affair is discovered, and he is forced to leave Verrires and enter the seminary only for his life to be transformed when his mentor, Abb Pirard, finds him a job in Paris, as private secretary to the aristocratic Marquis de la Mole. Finally, Julien has an entre into high society and when he wins the heart of the Marquis’ beautiful, haughty daughter Mathilde, he seems to have the world at his feet. But as his past returns to haunt him, Julien commits a terrible crime that will seal his fateā€¦.

A gripping tale of love, ambition, morality and hypocrisy, The Red and the Black was adapted as an award-winning 1954 film by Claude Autant-Lara, and televised as a 1993 BBC mini-series starring Ewan McGregor. This lively, fast-paced radio adaptation stars William Squire as the Narrator and Andrew Hall as Julien, with a cast including Margo Gunn, Deborah Paige and Edward de Souza.

Also included is the fascinating documentary feature Stendhal and Napoleon, in which Andy Martin tells how Stendahl followed Napoleon across Europe to Moscow in 1812 as catering manager to the troops and changed fiction in the process.