The works of the French author Stendhal (1783-1842) mark the transition in France from romanticism to realism. His masterpieces—The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma—provide incisive and ironic depictions of love and the will to power.
Stendhal was born Marie Henri Beyle on Jan. 23, 1783, in Grenoble. He was thus a child of the 18th century who lived well into the 19th. He early developed a dislike for his father and an undue attachment to his mother. She died when he was 7 years old. Stendhal soon displayed the customary pattern that develops from such emotional situations: a hatred for authority and a search for a surrogate mother.
Early Training and Career
Stendhal's schooling was under the Ideologues, a group of 18th-century investigators of psychology, a training that set him apart from the later romantic authors. From this schooling, as well as from an intensive study of Ideologue writings (especially those of Destutt de Tracy) that he began in 1804, Stendhal formed his world view. He sought to understand man by learning the workings of his mind and above all his emotions, the latter of which Stendhal believed were rooted in man's physiological nature. Stendhal hoped through this study to be able to dominate those about him. The principal keys were consciousness of self, awareness of the primal role of will, and excellence of memory in order to ensure recall of all relevant facts. In the happiness principle (la chasse au bonheur, the pursuit of happiness) Stendhal saw the central dynamic drive of man.
In 1800 Stendhal accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte on his heroic crossing of the Alps into Italy, first coming at this time to know and love Italy. He rapidly became a functionary of some importance under the Napoleonic Empire and spent the years 1806-1810 in Germany, where, among other places, he stayed for a time in the town of Stendhal, from which he derived his pseudonym. In 1814, with the collapse of the Empire, Stendhal settled happily in Italy, renouncing forever his dreams of a major public career. He preferred Italy to his native land, for, probably erroneously, he believed it a more fertile soil for the cultivation of the passions.
Doctrine of "Beylism"
An elusive personality, the end product of a process of disillusionment, Stendhal showed a mocking exterior, ironic and skeptical, that masked his sensitive and wounded heart. He gradually elaborated a doctrine he called "egotism" or "Beylism." Stendhal later wrote of this doctrine in detail in a series of works not published until long after his death: his Journal (1888), his Life of Henri Brûlard (1890), and his Memoirs of Egotism (1892). The doctrine, the name of which is deceptive to speakers of English, urges a deliberate following of self-interest and views the external world solely as a theater for personal energies. The "will to glory" is no more than the doctrine's external manifestation. Its essence is inward, an intense study of the self in order to give to the fleeting moments of life all the density of which they are capable. Although this is an admittedly elitist doctrine, Stendhal excused and justified it by his total sincerity. It ultimately proposes self-knowledge, not self-interest, to enhance the cult of the will, and it proposes the energy to develop an ever present sense of what one owes to oneself. To Stendhal, Italy and Napoleon were the supreme models of his doctrine. He proposed them to the "Happy Few" as guides, for he believed that the elite alone possess sufficient independence of judgment and strength of will to dare to be themselves. They alone may seek the supreme goal— happiness and the complete conscious realization of self— through self-analysis leading to self-knowledge and an awareness of how all others also seek their own ends; through a conscious hypocrisy to conceal their own goals; and through an unabating honesty with self.
Stendhal's early works little suggest the sincerity of his approach. His History of Painting in Italy and Rome, Naples, and Florence, both written in 1817, contain interesting original elements among many plagiarized passages. In 1821 Stendhal was suspected as a spy and forced to leave Italy but not before completing much of the work on his first major publication, On Love (1822). This study of love, today highly prized, sold only 17 copies during his lifetime. It is a rationalist's account of the ultimate emotional experience. Through a witty analogy Stendhal suggested that the initial manifestation of love is no more than a "crystallization" about the loved one of qualities the lover wishes to find in him or her—a matter (to use a later terminology) of projection and ego-satisfaction little dependent upon the real qualities of the person who is loved. It is a form of self-love, then, and not real love. For Stendhal, if love is to be complete, it must become a discovery of the loved person and a loss of self in love of the other. This total absorption is the supreme manifestation of the ego, a transcendent state to which all art and nature then contribute.
Stendhal's Racine and Shakespeare, a minor foray into the developing battle of romanticism in France, appeared in 1823. In 1827 he published his first major novel, Armance, a psychological study marred by a lack of clarity (a fatal fault in such analyses).
The Red and the Black
In 1831, taking advantage of a momentary easing of the censorship, Stendhal published The Red and the Black. Although it is today acclaimed as a masterpiece, it had to wait 50 years and long after the death of its author to begin to achieve that status. It is the best single work in which to study Stendhal.
The plot of The Red and the Black (like those of many other French novels of the 19th century) is based on a widely reported criminal case of the day. Stendhal adopted its outline, changing the names of the characters and providing his own account of their motivations. His hero, Julien Sorel, of a peasant family, is placed as tutor in the minor noble family of the Rênals in a small village in Savoy, the region in which Stendhal had passed his childhood. Julien seduces Madame de Rênal, leaving her when scandal is about to break out in order to enter a seminary and pursue studies for the priesthood. He next becomes the secretary of the aristocratic Marquis de la Môle in Paris, where he seduces the marquis's daughter, Mathilde. As he is about to marry her, Madame de Rênal writes a damaging letter to the marquis. Julien, infuriated, makes an unsuccessful attempt to kill Madame de Rênal. For this crime he receives the sentence of execution.
The "Black" of the title represents the Roman Catholic Church; the "Red" is a broader symbol, suggesting the Revolution, the Republic, the Empire of Napoleon, and more generalized concepts of courage and daring. Julien, a fervent admirer of Napoleon, is born too late for the Red; but he "knows how to choose the uniform of his century" and opts for the priesthood, the Black. The novel is, in this regard, a satiric portrayal of France under the Restoration, the conservative reaction that followed the Empire and that depended for its continuance upon repressing young men like Julien. In his flaming speech at his trial Julien accuses his accusers of being no better than himself and of punishing him for being "a plebian in revolt."
Julien Sorel's Character
Julien's character is complex but clearly delineated, so that The Red and the Blackis also, and more importantly, a study of love. Physically weak, Julien is scorned by his father and brothers; he early loses his mother. He uses his keen intelligence to serve his ambition and little understands how much he seeks a mother in all women. His need is to dominate, not only society but especially a woman. Madame de Rênal is a maternal type of woman; he plans her seduction coldly. But Stendhal wisely has Julien win her only when he lacks the strength to continue his foolish stratagems and bursts into tears in her bedroom. For almost the first time, Julien is honest with himself and with her. Julien thus also provides that moment of the unexpected (l'imprévu), which Stendhal deemed essential to love. For a brief time Julien passes from self-love to real love, but soon his wounded vanity drives him back to ambition. The two themes, love and the revolutionary spirit, blend in a terrifying spectacle as his sufferings make him an enemy dangerous to society and fatal to any woman who loves him. His chosen method, hypocrisy, gains him rapid success, but it denies him the possibility of full love.
In Julien's affair with Mathilde, on the one hand, Stendhal satirizes the decadent Parisian nobility of the Restoration and, on the other, with the rigor of a mathematical demonstration, he pushes Julien into the seduction. The relationship offers the occasion to contrast an ambitious and calculating love to Madame de Rênal's selfless devotion. Julien can control Mathilde only by keeping his emotions constantly in check; it is always a battle between them for domination, and the revolutionary theme returns.
After his attempted murder of Madame de Rênal, Julien, contrasting her devotion with the self-seeking vanity of Mathilde, discovers the real nature of love. Renouncing both ambition and hypocrisy, he gives himself wholly to Madame de Rênal, who forgives him and returns his love. She spends long hours in prison with him, thus allowing Stendhal to depict his concept of one person's fully developed love for another person. Julien is serenely happy despite his death sentence. His will to power has been set aside for higher goals; his pursuit of happiness has been successful.
In its acceptance of love as the supreme experience of life, The Red and the Black is romantic. In its sensitive and sympathetic analysis of motives and of feeling and response, it derives from the 18th century. It foreshadows the return of psychological analysis in the novel, a return that characterized France at the end of the 19th century, when The Red and the Black began first to be appreciated. In the delicate irony of its presentation (not always translatable into English) it is, however, Stendhal's work alone.
The Charterhouse of Parma
In 1831 Stendhal returned to Italy. In 1834 he began his novel Lucien Leuwen (not published until 1890), an attack on the July Monarchy. In 1839 he published his second great work, The Charterhouse of Parma. A complex novel set in Italy, it analyzes, even more delicately than does The Red and the Black, the variations and nuances of love. Again a prison serves as the paradoxical setting. The book is also important for its satiric portrayal of the Battle of Waterloo, at which the hero, Fabrice, is in fact present without ever being sure whether the action is really a battle or not.
More important is the detailed portrait of Fabrice's aunt, La Sansévérina, who is in love with him but whose love is not returned. Her quiet self-command, the fullness with which she lives a major role in the court at Parma, and her ease in handling her lover, the Prime Minister, and the ruler, who also loves her, make her one of Stendhal's most complex characters, perhaps his best delineation, and certainly one of the greatest female characters in French fiction. The ending of this novel is seriously truncated. Its last words are a dedication (in English): "To the Happy Few." The novel, little admired on its publication, did at least receive praise from Honoré de Balzac.
On March 22, 1842, Stendhal died in Paris. Almost a hundred years passed before he was understood as a major figure of world literature.
Autobiographical works by Stendhal are The Life of Henri Brûlard (trans. 1939), Memoirs of Egotism (trans. 1949), and The Private Diaries of Stendhal (trans. 1954). Jean Dutourd, The Man of Sensibility (trans. 1961), is a series of essays on various aspects of Stendhal's personality. Robert M. Adams, Stendhal: Notes on a Novelist (1959), contains a short biography and general criticism of the fiction. Introductions to Stendhal's work are Howard Clewes, Stendhal: An Introduction to the Novelist (1950), and Wallace Fowlie, Stendhal (1969), which emphasizes Stendhal's contributions to the evolution of the novel.
Useful studies include Frederick C. Green, Stendhal (1939);Matthew Josephson's excellent Stendhal: or, The Pursuit of Happiness (1946), which lays great weight on psychological factors; John Atherton, Stendhal (1965), an analysis of the concepts which motivate and form the personalities of Stendhal's characters; Armand Caraccio, Stendhal (trans. 1965), divided into a biography and a perceptive study of the novels; and Victor Brombert, Stendhal: Fiction and the Themes of Freedom (1968).
Varied critical opinion on Stendhal appears in Victor Brombert, ed., Stendhal: A Collection of Critical Essays (1962). Harry Levin, The Gates of Horn: A Study of Five French Realists (1963), contains a penetrating chapter on Stendhal; and Stendhal figures prominently in Joseph Wood Krutch, Five Masters: A Study in the Mutations of the Novel (1930), and Raymond Giraud, The Unheroic Hero in the Novels of Stendhal, Balzac and Flaubert (1957). For background see Martin Turnell's two works, The Novel in France (1951) and The Art of French Fiction (1959).
Alter, Robert, A lion for love: a critical biography of Stendhal, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986, 1979.
Fineshriber, William H., Stendhal, the romantic rationalist, Philadelphia: R. West, 1977 c1932.
Stendhal, Memoirs of an egotist, London: Chatto and Windus, 1975. □
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Stendhal (stăNdäl´), pseud. of Marie Henri Beyle (märē äNrē´ bĕl), 1783–1842, French writer, recognized as one of the great French novelists.
He grew up in Grenoble hating his father and the Jesuit, Royalist atmosphere in his home, and he went to Paris at his earliest opportunity. There influential relatives obtained a place for him at the ministry of war. In 1800 he became a dragoon in Napoleon's army, and the invasion of Italy took him to Milan. By 1802 he was back in Paris, where he pursued the amorous adventures that continued to interest him all his life. He read widely and kept notes and journals, which have been published. He again served with Napoleon's army in the disastrous Russian campaign (1812). After Napoleon's fall in 1814, Stendhal went to Milan, remaining there until 1820. There he began his literary career.
In Vie de Haydn, de Mozart, et de Métastase (1814) and in Rome, Naples, et Florence en 1817 (1817), he borrowed facts freely from other writers, but the point of view and wit were his own. His books were better known in England than in France, and from c.1817 he wrote for British journals. In this period, when he was suffering from his most genuine and most unhappy love affair, he wrote De l'amour (1822), a psychological analysis of love that predates Freud. Stendhal's first novel, Armance (1827), was scorned by the critics.
In 1831 the first of his two great novels, Le Rouge et le Noir (tr. The Red and the Black), was published. The Red in the title symbolizes the army and liberalism, and the Black the reactionary clergy. It is, baldly, the story of a sensitive but calculating youth, Julien Sorel, who pursues his ambitions by seduction and is eventually guillotined for shooting his mistress. Its sympathetic and acute character analysis and its picture of the period make it one of the world's great novels.
After the accession (1830) of Louis Philippe, Stendhal was appointed consul at Trieste, but because Metternich objected to his books and liberal ideas, he was shifted to Civitavecchia in 1831. He wrote constantly there, although he did not publish; among the works of that period are Souvenirs d'égotisme and La Vie d'Henri Brulard, both autobiographical, and Lucien Leuwen, a novel.
During a three-year leave of absence (1836–39), which he spent in Paris or in traveling about France, he wrote what many consider his greatest novel, La Chartreuse de Parme (1839, tr. The Charterhouse of Parma). Its plot is from the Renaissance, but it is set in Italy of the 1830s. Its hero, Fabrizio del Dongo, like Julien Sorel, possesses a special egoism (termed Beylism by Stendhal) that derives its great energy from passion, has its own moral code, and consists of unswerving pursuit of happiness in the form of love or power. Stendhal returned to Paris a few months before he died. Nearly 50 years after his death, his unprinted works were discovered and published.
See translations of his autobiographical works, The Life of Henri Brulard (1939), Memoirs of Egotism (1949), and The Private Diaries of Stendhal (1954); biography by J. Keates (1997).
"Stendhal." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stendhal
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"Stendhal." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/stendhal
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BORN: 1783, Grenoble, France
DIED: 1842, Paris, France
GENRE: Nonfiction, fiction
On Love (1822)
The Red and the Black (1830)
Among the four most important novelists of nineteenth-century France, Stendhal is noteworthy for the intensity of conscience and feeling in his characters and for beginning his publication of fictional works later in life than did Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Émile Zola. These two facts may have a common cause. Stendhal was usually preoccupied with self-image, and as a result he was by turns timid or brazen, sensitive or cynical, evasive or forthright, never sure of how he was being perceived by others. These aspects of his personality appear in the portraits of his heroes and in his narrative technique, but they may also account for his waiting until age forty-four to publish his first novel. Having filled hundreds of pages in his diaries, and with nonfiction works already in print, he finally had the confidence to risk public scrutiny of a totally creative work. His sense of the craft of fiction developed quickly after the appearance of his novel Armance (1827), and his later novels have an important place in the development of literary realism. Stendhal's techniques of handling point of view and psychological portraiture are distinctive and have been much admired by critics and writers alike.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A Turbulent Childhood and the Death of His Mother Stendhal was born Marie-Henri Beyle on January 23, 1783, in Grenoble to Joseph-Chérubin Beyle, a lawyer, and his wife, Caroline-Adélaide-Henriette. He was the first child in the family to survive, a previous Marie-Henri having died a few days after birth the year before. Later siblings included Pauline, to whom the young Stendhal was very close, and Zénaide, for whom he professed dislike. Letters written to Pauline after Stendhal had left Grenoble at age sixteen are an important part of his collected correspondence. His mother died in 1790, when he was seven. Thanks to reminiscences in Stendhal's autobiographical works, much is known about his childhood memories. In a famous passage from Vie de Henry Brulard, he claims that, before his mother's death, he loved her ardently and desired to cover her body with kisses. In a contrast that has provoked much Freudian criticism, Stendhal never had a good relationship with his father, whom he described as authoritarian, hypocritically conventional, and bourgeois.
French Revolution, Paris, and the Napoleonic Wars During the years of the French Revolution (1789–1799), Stendhal, captivated by rhetoric of liberation from tyranny, followed the events enthusiastically. Though the revolution, aiming as it did at the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of a more democratic political system (it succeeded in the former and failed quite thoroughly in the latter), spent the greater part of its energy in Paris, it extended far enough into the countryside for Stendhal's father's royalist sentiments to earn him several months of incarceration. The newly created public school in Grenoble, l'École centrale (Central School), afforded Stendhal much interaction with peers (he undertook a duel using pistols with one school-mate), and the opportunity to excel at mathematics, which he saw as his ticket out of Grenoble. Indeed, in November of 1799 he arrived in Paris, where he was supposed to sit for the entrance exam given by l'École polytechnique. He did not take the exam, however, and instead benefited from the patronage of a powerful cousin, Pierre Daru, who obtained for him a position as clerk in a government office.
Stendhal longed to write plays and become the Molière of his time, but for the present he was being paid to write official letters for Daru's signature. A few months later Daru sent him, commissioned as a second lieutenant, across the Saint Bernard pass into northern Italy, where Napoléon Bonaparte's Italian campaign was in progress. Having read voraciously during his childhood, Stendhal identified with the heroes of romances by Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso as he endured the perils and rigors of a soldier's lot on the way to Milan. He was enchanted by the solder's life, and the vivid memories of this experience would find their place in the composition of The Charterhouse of Parma nearly forty years later.
Accusations of Plagiarism and the Start of a Literary Career In 1814, Stendhal's first book appeared, bearing the unwieldy title The Life of Haydn, in a Series of Letters written at Vienna, followed by the Life of Mozart, with Observations on Metastasio, and on the present State of Music in France and Italy, 1817, and fancifully attributed to a pseudonymous Louis-Alexandre-César Bombet. Sales were less than brisk, and three hundred unsold copies were republished in 1817 with a new binding and a much shorter title, by which the work is known today: Lives of Haydn, Mozart, and Metastasio. The pseudonym was all the more appropriate in that Stendhal's book had borrowed to the point of plagiarism from other sources, principally from Giuseppe Carpani's Le Haydine (1812). Carpani discovered the theft and complained in the French press, but the matter was never taken seriously.comparison of Stendhal's text with Carpani's reveals much translation and adaptation but also considerable originality in style, scope, and critical judgment. Having subsidized the printing himself, Stendhal lost money on the venture but found his calling.
French Romanticism From 1821 to 1830, Stendhal lived in Paris, frequenting the salons of Marie-Joseph, Marquis de Lafayette, Destutt de Tracy, Cabanis, Etienne Delécluze, and others. He interacted with the major figures of the Restoration—the return to the throne of the House of Bourbon accompanying Napoléon's fall from power—particularly those with a liberal orientation, and acquired the reputation of being a witty (and sometimes irritating) conversationalist. His friendship with Prosper Mérimée, who published a portrait of Stendhal titled H. B. (1850), dates from these years. He met other Romantic writers in the salons and contributed to their movement a pamphlet, Racine and Shakespeare, first published in 1823, then revised and enlarged in 1825.
Because of his attachment to the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment, Stendhal stood apart from the early French Romantics, who had a nostalgia for the traditional values of legitimate monarchy and church, which had been stigmatized and even outlawed during the turbulent revolutionary and Napoleonic years. Indeed, the 1823 version of his pamphlet does not seem to have attracted wide attention. But French Romanticism was already in the process of becoming more liberal, as it contended against the reestablished French establishment's condemnation of the movement. The 1825 version of Racine and Shakespeare enjoyed a good measure of success and influence, including a favorable review in the liberal Globe in London, which had been founded only the year before. Stendhal would later parlay this minor success into further critical publications and, ultimately, the novel The Red and the Black (1830), for which he is best known.
An Unrecognized Masterpiece The arrival of The Red and the Black on the literary scene of Paris, however, went largely unheeded. Stendhal himself wrote with some resignation that he published for “the Happy Few,” although later authors (such as Honoré de Balzac were outraged by the tepidity of the reception of this and other works), and he took up a post as consul to the papal state of Civitavecchia in 1931. For the next ten years, he held this post, publishing a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction texts, until an apoplectic fit forced him—in 1841—to request leave to recover in Paris. The following year, another such fit struck him as he was walking down the street, and he died at the age of seventy-eight in his Paris apartment. Publishing his first novel only at the age of forty-four, and unheralded in his lifetime, Stendhal has since been recognized as one of the greatest literary figures France—indeed, the world—has ever produced.
Works in Literary Context
Stendhal's fiction is marked primarily by its emphasis on “realism.” Unlike the wild narratives of novels such as Don Quixote, Stendhal's fiction tries to represent the world as it is, catching both the small and large details of his characters' lives in order to paint them as realistically as possible. As literature would continue to develop over the next century and, indeed, to this day, the tendency to represent fictional worlds realistically has continued. Novelists as divergent in subject and theme as Mark Twain and Toni Morrison have written in the realist tradition for which Stendhal was at least partially responsible.
Realism Like most of his previous works, The Red and the Black relied in part on borrowed material and sprang from the account of a crime that Stendhal had read in the Journal of Criminal Cases. A blacksmith's son named Antoine Berthet had been sentenced to death after shooting a woman—with whom he may have had a romantic history—in a church during Mass. Stendhal's Julien Sorel differs from the real-life Berthet in important ways, but their stories have similar outlines. Given that Stendhal works from actual accounts of real-world events, it is no wonder that this novel, like much of his work, emphasizes “realism,” a technique in which an author tries to portray his characters and worlds as realistically as possible—as opposed to fantasy literature, such as science fiction, in which considerations of “the way things really are” is minimal.
Stendhal's narrator touts his realist aesthetic in some direct statements in The Red and the Black, the most famous of which defines the novel as a mere reflector of reality: “Why, sir, a novel is a mirror that is carried along a highway.” In other interventions as well, the narrator pretends to apologize for elements of the story that might in some way be objectionable, but that must be reported because they are part of the story's declared historical reality. Such protestations of “reality,” which accompanied the emergence of the novel as a distinct genre, may call attention to the artifice that underlies the invented narration, but do so without compromising fictional illusion—an important development in the history of literature. The importance of realism in the novel is further emphasized by Stendhal's subtitle at the beginning of book one, “Chronicle of 1830,” despite the absence in the work of any mention of the crucial revolution of 1830 and the end of the Bourbon regime in France.
Works in Critical Context
During his lifetime Stendhal's works enjoyed much less popular success than those of contemporaries whose work has not endured, but his works were well known to the cultured elite. Consequently he had a certain reputation in Paris salons but did not derive a substantial income from his writing. Stendhal reflected that it was less desirable to have a wide following among his contemporaries than to appeal to readers in 1880 or 1935, and curiously, his choice of dates proved somewhat prophetic. Zola, in an essay first published in 1880, discussed Stendhal as one of his precursors (along with Balzac and Flaubert), and in 1882 an article by the novelist Paul Bourget, along with the influence of Hippolyte Taine's continuing enthusiasm, consolidated Stendhal's reputation in the French literary canon. By 1935 a growing critical industry of “Stendhaliens” had published a wealth of texts on and by their author. In his own time, however, Stendhal had to rely on work as a journalist, a specialist in military supply, and as French consul abroad to supplement income from publications and his father's estate.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Stendhal's famous contemporaries include:
Charles Lamb (1775–1834): An English essayist also responsible for making Shakespeare accessible to children in his book Tales from Shakespeare.
Charles Nodier (1780–1844): A French author who wrote during the same period as Stendhal but whose work involved gothic themes, including vampires.
Benoit Fourneyron (1802–1867): The French engineer who designed the first usable water turbine, a device that captures energy from moving water.
William Fox Talbot (1800–1877): An English inventor, and a pioneer of the photographic process.
Charles Darwin (1809–1882): An English naturalist responsible for defining and defending his theory of natural selection as a mechanism for evolution.
Armance In part to distract himself from dejection after the end of a love affair, Stendhal wrote his first novel, Armance, in 1827. Stendhal took the premise of his novel from another author's book. Henri de Latouche had published an anonymous novel, Olivier, in 1826; this in turn was based on an unpublished story of the same title by Claire de Durfort, Duchesse de Duras. The reading public and Stendhal's friends, however, had a largely negative reaction to Armance, and the eight hundred to one thousand copies of the first printing found so few buyers that in 1828 the remainders were rebound and announced as a second edition. Indeed, despite his prodigious output, Stendhal frequently misjudged the appeal of his work to the reading public. Although he often picked scandalous and timely subjects, plucked from gossip circles, he could never quite make a lasting connection with critics of his time. Perhaps this was due, to the novel's gender-bending literary trickery, on which some recent criticism has focused. Maryline Lukacher, for instance, suggests that “in Armance, the title is deceitful and enigmatic, since it does not correspond to what it is supposed to describe. Under the cover of a woman's name, Stendhal is effectively telling the story of a man.”
The Red and the Black By far Stendhal's most popular and most frequently read work today is The Red and the Black. Responses to the novel have come from a wide variety of directions, including everything from psychoanalysis to philosophy of science, political science to theater studies. John Vignaux Smyth surveys this criticism, noting that “‘Red’ and ‘Black’ are often identified by critics with the poles of honesty and hypocrisy,” and arguing, “The venerable comparison of fiction and truth to clothes and body takes us beyond fiction-as-representation to fiction as a relation between concealment and revelation.” Meanwhile, writing from the perspective of psychoanalytically informed feminism, Julia Kristeva writes that Stendhal's women, here and elsewhere, “have the strength of destiny, the power of ancient divinities.”
Responses to Literature
- Read The Red and the Black. In your opinion, how successful is Stendhal's portrayal of “reality”—how real is his realism? In your response, consider his portrayal not only of physical details—descriptions of places and objects—but also his portrayal of human nature. Collect your thoughts in a short essay in which you analyze specific examples from the text to support your thinking.
- Read, watch, or listen to a work that is “based on a true story.” The examples from the “Common Human Experience” sidebar might provide some possibilities. Then, using the Internet and the library, research the real events upon which this story is based. In a short essay, discuss the choices the artist made in shaping the final text—which details were kept, and which were lost? What details seem to have been distorted for artistic effect?
- Choose an event that is currently being talked about frequently in the news or in your circle of friends. Then, create a short story or film that is based on this event. Review Stendhal's fiction, particularly Armance and The Red and the Black, as examples if necessary.
- In modern times, plagiarism of another author's work is not only frowned upon but a violation of copyright law. In the time of Shakespeare, however, the kind of plagiarism Stendhal committed was not considered a serious crime. Using the Internet and the library, research the history of plagiarism and its perceived inappropriateness. In a short essay, present an overview of this history and make an evaluation of what you've discovered. Do modern copyright laws provide suitable protection for writers? Do these laws restrict freedom of expression in some ways?
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Stendhal looked to real-life events for the plots of his novels The Red and the Black and Armance. He was not the first artist to look to real life for inspiration for his fictional work. To a certain extent, the practice dates back to Homer's Iliad, which was believed by the ancient Greeks to have taken place in the distant past. The film, novel, and song that is “based on a true story” or “inspired by real events” is now a staple of the entertainment industry. Here are a few examples:
Catch a Fire (2006), a film directed by Philip Noyce. AfterPatrick Chamusso is falsely accused of an act of terrorism and after the South African government beats him and intimidates his wife, he vows revenge.
Into the Wild (1996), a speculative biography by Jon Krakauer. In this text, Krakauer recounts the short life of Christopher McCandless, who, at the age of twenty-two, left behind his affluent family to live off the land, though he wound up dying in the Alaskan wilderness only two years later.
“Hurricane” (1975), a song by Bob Dylan. In this song, Dylan describes the imprisonment of Rubin Carter, who had been framed by crooked cops and lawyers for multiple counts of murder.
Adams, Robert M. Stendhal: Notes on a Novelist. New York: Noonday, 1959.
Alter, Robert. A Lion for Love: A Critical Biography of Stendhal. New York: Basic Books, 1979.
Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1953.
Brombert, Victor. The Romantic Prison: The French Tradition. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1978.
Erdman, David V., ed. The Romantic Movement: A Selective and Critical Bibliography. West Cornwall, Conn.: Locust Hill, 1988.
Josephson, Matthew. Stendhal, or the Pursuit of Happiness. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1946.
May, Gita. Stendhal and the Age of Napoleon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.
Talbot, Emile. Stendhal and Romantic Esthetics. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1985.
Wood, Michael. Stendhal. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971.
"Stendhal." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stendhal
"Stendhal." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. . Retrieved January 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/stendhal