Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Como. City in northwestern Italy not far from Milan. With its charming lake of the same name, it is one of the most beautiful sites in the country and in the novel is the home of the del Dongo family. Stendhal presents Como as the secluded, stifling setting in which the naïve Fabrizio grows up with visions of sharing in Napoleon’s glory.
*Waterloo. Belgian village south of Brussels, where Napoleon fought his last, losing battle in 1815. Stendhal effectively evokes the country atmosphere and the confusion of battle, including Fabrizio’s ludicrous attempts to join Napoleon’s forces. Traveling under false papers he is arrested as a spy. His incarceration is the first of several imprisonments that ultimately lead to his self-incarceration in the Charterhouse of Parma.
*Parma. Northern Italian city south of the River Po that serves as the site of the novel’s central action. Here Fabrizio, under suspicion by the prince and the royalists because of his Napoleonic adventures, wins the favor of the clergy and becomes a controversial figure emblematic of the city’s factionalism. Dominating the city is the despotic prince, who has ambitions to become the constitutional monarch of Italy. Indeed, it is only his ambition that prevents the prince from summarily having Fabrizio executed for killing (in self-defense) a rival for the love of an actress. Fabrizio is a prisoner in the Farnese Tower, the prison which is part of the city’s citadel–a defensive fortress that is mentioned frequently in the novel. Like Parma itself, the citadel is a center of intrigue, where Fabrizio must take care that he is not poisoned by his jailers, and where he survives because he is able to bribe them.
Parma’s combination of corruption and thuggery makes the simple, passionate Fabrizio an endearing figure to the public even when they feel he is guilty of murder. However, the prison also becomes a metaphor for his self-confining passions. His devotion to Napoleon leads to his first arrest. His equally devout passion for an actress results in his incarceration in the Farnese Tower. There through a window he observes his jailer’s daughter and wishes to stay in prison so he can remain close to a woman with whom he presumes he will never be able to live. Even after she forces him to agree to a daring escape from the tower, he returns to his prison cell in despair over his inability to have her.
*Charterhouse of Parma. Although it provides the novel’s title, this former monastery is mentioned only in the book’s last three paragraphs. It is the site of Fabrizio’s religious retreat from the world. However, it also becomes another form of imprisonment and exile. Stendhal clearly means to link the Charterhouse of his title to the del Dongo castle at Grianta in Como where Fabrizio grew up and to places like Ferrara, a small ancient town in northern Italy, where Fabrizio hid after killing his rival. Thus the idea of society as a prison house from which Fabrizio cannot escape and the idea of society itself as a place of incarceration suffuse Stendhal’s deeply ironic and disturbing novel.