Authors: Stendhal

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

French novelist, historian, and critic

January 23, 1783

Grenoble, France

March 23, 1842

Paris, France


Stendhal (stehn-dahl), the most “unromantic” figure of France’s Romantic period (1830-1848), ranks with Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Émile Zola as one of the greatest French novelists of the nineteenth century. He was born Marie-Henri Beyle in Grenoble, France, on January 23, 1783. Always of an independent nature, he left his birthplace at an early age to seek his fortune in Paris. Despite ambitions as a playwright, Stendhal obtained a position in the Ministry of War and, in 1800, became a dragoon in the army of Napoleon. As an aide-de-camp and later an imperial commissioner, he accompanied the army in the Italian, Prussian, and Russian campaigns, serving with distinction until the fall of Napoleon in 1814. Still a young man, he spent the next seven years in Milan, scene of The Charterhouse of Parma, one of his two masterpieces. The rest of his life was spent as an independent and stubborn consular officer of France, mainly in Civitavecchia. Tempestuous, and usually disastrous, love affairs occupied a considerable amount of his time, and some of the events connected with these are to be found in his writings. He died in Paris on March 23, 1842. {$I[AN]9810000018} {$I[A]Stendhal} {$I[geo]FRANCE;Stendhal} {$I[tim]1783;Stendhal}


(Library of Congress)

Stendhal’s writing career began in 1814 in Milan. There he produced two studies, The Lives of Haydn and Mozart, with Observations on Métastase and Rome, Naples, and Florence, in 1817. He also contributed several critical essays to British literary journals during this period, and his name was better known in England then than it was in France. Stendhal’s first novel, Armance, appeared in 1827. Five years earlier, he had written a searching study of one of his own love affairs titled Maxims of Love (1822). None of these early writings received significant attention. In 1830 appeared the first of Stendhal’s two unquestioned masterpieces, The Red and the Black. The title indicates the strife between the Napoleonic spirit of the military and the power of the clergy, whom Stendhal detested. The protagonist of the novel, Julien Sorel, has come to typify the post-Revolutionary arriviste in France. Much of Stendhal himself is in this character. Sorel is a poor tutor who makes love to the children’s mother in order to further his own ambitions. When this woman, his first mistress, betrays him to a second, he attempts to kill her and is condemned to die. In addition to giving a profound psychological study of Sorel, The Red and the Black furnishes an excellent representation of the social upheaval France had undergone during the years since the Revolution. Sorel epitomizes the uprooted peasant, the man of mediocre talent who is intelligent enough to wish above all to avail himself of the limitless opportunities offered those like him under the Republic.

During the years 1831 to 1838, Stendhal wrote two autobiographical works, Memoirs of an Egotist and The Life of Henry Brulard, and one novel, Lucien Leuwen, which were not published until later. Stendhal’s greatest novel, The Charterhouse of Parma, was published in 1839. This is the story of Fabrice del Dongo (roughly the equivalent of Julien Sorel) and his relations with a duchess and a highwayman. The story is laid in nineteenth-century Italy, although the most famous passage is a realistic description of the Battle of Waterloo as seen through the young hero’s eyes. Stendhal, who professed to love Italy more than France, succeeds admirably in painting a vivid picture of life in a petty Italian principality. His study of the loves and intrigues of his characters is especially brilliant. This work, like The Red and the Black, shows Stendhal at his best: careless of form but willing to put his brilliant energy and his stubborn and egotistical mind to the task of recording, with effective economy of detail, the minutiae and grandeur of life. Stendhal is not above using improbable characters and situations, but his study of both is brutally exact. Thus he is called both romantic and realist.

In his own day Stendhal was not appreciated; only Balzac saw much worth to his novels. He died in Paris in 1842; since then, his correspondence, diaries, unfinished novellas, and complete works have been published. In the late 1880’s the appearance of his previously unpublished works produced a curious literary revival; he was praised by both the naturalists and the psychologists. Stendhal, it has been said, went further than any other writer of France in reconciling the two great literary traditions of that country, classical simplicity and romantic imagination.

Author Works Long Fiction: Armance: Ou, Quelques scènes d'un salon de Paris, 1827 (English translation, 1928) Le Rouge et le noir, 1830 (The Red and the Black, 1898) Lucien Leuwen, wr. 1834–35, pb. 1855, 1894, 1926-1927 (English translation, 1950) La Chartreuse de Parme, 1839 (The Charterhouse of Parma, 1895) Lamiel, wr. 1839–42, pb. 1889, 1971 (English translation, 1929) Short Fiction: Vanina Vanini; Ou, Particularités sur la dernière vente de Carbonari dans les États du pape, 1829 L'Abbesse de Castro, 1839 Chroniques italiennes, 1839, 1855 (The Abbess of Castro, and Other Tales, 1926) Romans et nouvelles: 1re édition complète des nouvelles et esquisses romanesques de Stendhal, 1968 Nonfiction: Vies de Haydn, de Mozart et de Métastase, 1815 (The Lives of Haydn and Mozart, with Observations on Métastase, 1817) Histoire de la peinture en Italie, 1817 Rome, Naples et Florence en 1817, 1817, 1826 (Rome, Naples, and Florence, in 1817, 1818) Vie de Napoléon, ca. 1817–18 (A Life of Napoleon, 1956) De l’amour, 1822 (Maxims of Love, 1906) Vie de Rossini, 1823 (Memoirs of Rossini, 1824; also known as Life of Rossini, 1956) Racine et Shakespeare, part 1, 1823; part 2, 1825 (Racine and Shakespeare, 1962) Notes d’un dilettante, 1824–27 D'un nouveau complot contre les industriels, 1825 Promenades dans Rome, 1829 (A Roman Journal, 1957) Souvenirs d’égotisme, wr. 1832, pb. 1892 (Memoirs of an Egotist, 1949) Vie de Henry Brulard, wr. 1835–36, pb. 1890 (The Life of Henry Brulard, 1925) Mémoires d’un touriste, 1838 (Memoirs of a Tourist, 1962) Voyage dans le midi de la France, 1838 (Travels in the South of France, 1971) Journal, 1888 Pensées, filosofia nova, 1931 Correspondance, 1933–34 Chroniques pour l'Angleterre: Contributions à la presse britannique, 1980–95 Correspondance inédite de Stendhal, consul de France dans les États romains , 1994 Miscellaneous: The Works, 1925–28 (6 volumes) Bibliography Adams, Robert M. Stendhal: Notes on a Novelist. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1959. Still one of the best critical introductions, written lucidly, with a biographical chapter and discussions of Stendhal’s major works. Adams includes an appendix identifying the “major slips, inconsistencies, oversights, and verbal faults” in Stendhal’s two major novels. Alter, Robert. A Lion for Love: A Critical Biography of Stendhal. New York: Basic Books, 1979. A biography that well integrates an analysis of Stendhal’s fiction into the story of his life. Bell, David F. Circumstances: Chance in the Literary Text. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. Examines the realistic writing of Stendhal and Honoré de Balzac. Bloom, Harold, ed. Stendhal. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. Essays by distinguished critics on women in Stendhal’s oeuvre, his use of autobiography, and his love plots. Includes introduction, chronology, and bibliography. Bolster, Richard. Stendhal: “Le Rouge et le noir.” London: Grant and Cutler, 1994. A critical guide to The Red and the Black. Keates, Jonathan. Stendhal. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1998. A lucid and shrewd biography, emphasizing the events of Stendhal’s life over exegesis of his works. Richardson, Joanna. Stendhal. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1974. A sound narrative biography with excellent documentation. Includes a bibliography. Talbot, Emile J. Stendhal Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1993. A revision of a useful introductory work, with a chapter on the man and the writer and separate chapters on Stendhal’s major novels. Contains a chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography. Wood, Michael. Stendhal. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971. A meticulous, scholarly study of Stendhal’s style and structure. Includes notes and brief bibliography. One of the standard works of Stendhal criticism in English.

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