Book News Focusing on The Red and the Black (1830), The Charterhouse of Parma (1839), and four other novels by one of the giants of French literature, offers a brief (considering the volume of work on the subject) but thoughtful introduction to the man and his work. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.
Blackwell North Amer Stendhal (Marie Henri Beyle), the author of two of France's great novels of the post-Napoleon Restoration - The Red and the Black (1830) and The Charterhouse of Parma (1839) - once wrote that his ideal readers would be born in the twentieth century. The modern spirit that runs through Stendhal's writing is one of the many themes Emile J. Talbot explores in this insightful, comprehensive analysis of Stendhal's work. Focusing on the novels - besides the two classics, Armance (1827), Lucien Leuwen (1834-35), and Lamiel (1839-42) - and the autobiography The Life of Henry Brulard (1835-36), Talbot argues that, narratologically, Stendhal's work has closer ties to the eighteenth-century novel than to novels published during Stendhal's own time. Although Stendhal participates in the trend toward greater realistic representation, Talbot finds that his realism seeks to involve the reader in the process of representation. Talbot asserts that Stendhal, for whom seriousness and humor are always conjoined, wants to share with his readers his self-consciousness as a novelist, which is part of the play of his writing, especially in The Red and the Black. This playfulness is evident, Talbot maintains, as Stendhal invites his readers to participate in the game of fictional creation. The confrontation between prerevolutionary and postrevolutionary values that Stendhal constantly witnessed Talbot identifies as another important theme in the novels. Stendhal's approach in exploring the relationship between individuals and political institutions is quite modern, according to Talbot; still, the author eschews the modern doctrine of historical progress, taking instead a cyclical view of human development in which great societies appear and disappear at various periods. Talbot disputes various claims that Stendhal is a writer of the Left or the Right: he remained cynical about politics, and his work is an indictment of governments of every stripe. That all Stendhal's heroes are adolescents on the verge of becoming adults makes his novels, Talbot contends, in one sense novels of education or initiation. Stendhal's heroes evolve from characters who try to live according to a preconceived model to characters in search of self-definition - from states of tortured self-questioning to discovery of a sense of self and the formulation of a new relationship to the other. Talbot delineates the fear of being judged by others as inevitably the source of suffering for Stendhal's characters. Love, however, is what destroys the fear of others, and in fact, argues Talbot, Stendhal redefines hell as no longer being able to love. Indeed, passionate and romantic love is Stendhal's paramount theme.