The Charterhouse of Parma (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]

Overview


In the coming-of-age story The Charterhouse of Parma, we follow a young Italian nobleman, Fabrizio Valserra, Marchesino del Dongo, on many adventures, including his experiences at the Battle of Waterloo, and romantic intrigues. Along the way we meet a number of fascinating characters, including Fabrizio's devoted aunt, Gina; her lover, the Parmese statesman, Count Mosca; and Fabrizio's true love, Clélia Conti. Set against the backdrop of post-Revolutionary Europe, the novel portrays a society that can barely ...
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The Charterhouse of Parma (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview


In the coming-of-age story The Charterhouse of Parma, we follow a young Italian nobleman, Fabrizio Valserra, Marchesino del Dongo, on many adventures, including his experiences at the Battle of Waterloo, and romantic intrigues. Along the way we meet a number of fascinating characters, including Fabrizio's devoted aunt, Gina; her lover, the Parmese statesman, Count Mosca; and Fabrizio's true love, Clélia Conti. Set against the backdrop of post-Revolutionary Europe, the novel portrays a society that can barely keep up with its people, because the changes history and politics have wrought are so pervasive.
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Product Details

Meet the Author


Stendhal is the pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle, who was born on January 23, 1783, in Grenoble, France. As a youth, Stendhal enjoyed a close relationship with his maternal grandfather, a physician who was believed to have roots in Italy, which became important later in Stendhal's own life and work, and is where most of The Charterhouse of Parma is set. In 1800 he joined Napoleon's armies as a second lieutenant, and his war experiences proved crucial to his writing. He died on March 23, 1842.
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Introduction

The Charterhouse of Parma, written by the great nineteenth-century French prose writer remembered as Stendhal, is primarily the coming-of-age story of a young Italian nobleman, Fabrizio Valserra, Marchesino del Dongo. We follow Fabrizio's many adventures, including his famous experiences at the Battle of Waterloo, and his romantic intrigues. Along the way we meet a number of fascinating characters, including Fabrizio's devoted aunt, Gina; her lover, the Parmese statesman, Count Mosca; and Fabrizio's true love, Clélia Conti. Set against the backdrop of post-Revolutionary Europe, the novel portrays individuals and a society that can barely keep up with (let alone ahead of) them, because the changes history and politics have wrought are so pervasive.

Stendhal is a pen name. The writer was born Marie-Henri Beyle on January 23, 1783, in Grenoble, a French city located about three hundred miles from Paris. He was the first surviving child born to Joseph-Chérubin, a lawyer, and Caroline-Adélaïde-Henriette Beyle. The Beyle home had been in the family's possession since the late seventeenth century. Stendhal's childhood was marked by the death of his mother, which occurred when the boy was seven years old. As a youth, Stendhal enjoyed a close relationship with his maternal grandfather, a physician who was believed to have roots in Italy, which became important later in Stendhal's own life and work, and is where most of The Charterhouse of Parma is set. In fact, it is to this grandfather's home and influence that James T. Day has traced "the beginning of Stendhal's personal myth of Italy as a luminous place where the spirit is less oppressed by the hypocritical constraints of society."

Stendhal's youth overlapped with the history-changing French Revolution, which erupted in 1789, and with the rise of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte (b. 1769-d. 1821). Napoleon achieved prominence largely through his military successes-especially in Italy-that accompanied the Revolution. The Revolution had seemed to replace the Bourbon monarchy that governed France with a republic, but in 1804 Napoleon became the French Emperor. His sound defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 signaled his own career's end and the restoration of the Bourbon line to the throne of France.

Stendhal was a witness to this history. In 1799 he left Grenoble for Paris, ostensibly to sit for the examinations that would enable him to continue his education at the prestigious École Polytechnique. But thanks in large part to a relative's influence, he instead soon began working in the French War Ministry; in 1800 he joined Napoleon's armies as a second lieutenant. His war experiences proved crucial to The Charterhouse of Parma and to much of his other work: the famed novelist and literary critic Henry James later noted that Stendhal's presence at the battle of Marengo and in the French retreat from Moscow was something that "the reader of any given five pages of his writing will not fail to discover."

It was thus as a soldier that Stendhal first voyaged to Italy, the land so central to The Charterhouse of Parma. Though he returned to his native country for extended periods of time throughout his life, and it was in France that he began training to be a writer, Italy was where he started to publish his works, and to use the pen name Stendhal, under which his third book, Rome, Naples et Florence en 1817 (translated as Rome, Naples and Florence in 1817), appeared. These early nonfiction publications featured writings about travel, art, music, and culture. It should be noted, though, that many critics comment on Stendhal's tendency, especially in the early works, to borrow heavily from the work of other writers, at least in one case, according to Day, "to the point of plagiarism."

It was also in Italy that he acquired political and diplomatic experience, notably as French consul at the port of Civitavecchia. In both France and Italy Stendhal was known to have embarked on several passionate love affairs. His treatise, De l'amour (translated as On Love), was published in 1822. Scripting his own epitaph, in fact, Stendhal suggested that it read: "Errico Beyle, Milanese: visse, scrisse, amò," which translates as "Henri Beyle, Milanese: he lived, wrote, loved."

Stendhal wrote prolifically, and published widely, but he did not publish his first novel (Armance) until he was forty-four years old. Le Rouge et le noir, translated as The Red and the Black, followed three years later, in 1830. The title refers to the historical divisions in French culture and society between the military (the "red") and the Church (the "black"). These are major influences in the life and career of the novel's protagonist, Julien Sorel, in whom Stendhal created one of literature's most studied and remembered characters.

Before the decade was out, Stendhal had produced the second novel for which posterity would most remember him: La Chartreuse de Parme, published in Paris in two volumes in 1839 and later translated as The Charterhouse of Parma. It would be impossible to trace this novel to a single inspiration, or to focus on a single "most important" theme within it. Many critics, including Day, refer to the novel's basis in the sixteenth-century history of one Alessandro Farnese. Day finds the Farnese story transformed into a plot "transposed to the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic era" with "twists that are by turns romantic, humorous, and spellbinding." On the other hand, Mark Temmer believes that of all Stendhal's novels, none "is more autobiographical in terms of his hopes and dreams" than this one. "Aging and perhaps defeated," Temmer continues, "Stendhal sought to relive and adorn the distant days of his youth, and, through an ingenious adaptation of Italian Renaissance chronicles, succeeded in drawing characters he would like to have been-foremost Fabrice del Dongo, a young Italian aristocrat, proud of his horse and sabre, handsome, gentle, generous, ignorant in the ways of learning, boredom, and money and deeply enamoured of Clélia Conti."

Fabrizio, as he has been called in the English translation, is literally a creation of the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleon. Though he never learns it, Fabrizio's true biological father is not the Marchese del Dongo but rather a French soldier fighting with Napoleon, billeted with the del Dongo family during the Italian campaign. This means that Fabrizio is still a tender teenager as the Battle of Waterloo approaches. Stendhal's rendering of this battle in The Charterhouse of Parma remains one of the novel's most well-known attributes.

At this point it is worth mentioning that many have often charged Stendhal with falling victim to a "cult of Napoleon." Fabrizio certainly demonstrates a great admiration for this figure, whom historians often point to as a less-than-noble dictator. But according to the eminent literary critic Irving Howe, "The common notion that [Stendhal] was a mere idolator of Napoleon is absurd." Moreover, Stendhal "sensed that Napoleon had meaning in terms of the past rather than the future, as a glorious historical memory rather than a possible national revival." This idea can be supported by both The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma, where, Howe writes, "The Waterloo episode, particularly Fabrice's famous inability to decide whether he has been in battle, is marvelous not merely for its direct graphic power but also as a way of showing that the young hero can no longer connect with-can no longer find a place or a meaning in-the Napoleonic experience. Fabrice's journey is a flight backward, into the radiant past; it does not succeed; its not succeeding is a condition for all that follows in the novel."

And much follows in the novel. Fabrizio experiences many adventures after Waterloo, but the lives of Count Mosca and Gina in Parma also earn the reader's attention. As Day has commented: "[Fabrizio's] story is essentially one of coming of age, but the prominence of Gina and her lover, the politician Count Mosca, makes the work something more than a novel of formation." Indeed, Fabrizio's Waterloo escapade is a costly one. For this deed, notes Stoddard Martin, "he is exiled from his home state, which like the rest of Italy reverts to the ancien régime on Napoléon's fall. Thus begin wanderings which will lead to Fabrizio's arrest and incarceration in the Farnese tower of the principality of Parma."

The "wanderings" cannot be ignored-to a considerable extent they form much of the novel's content and overlap with and affect the lives of Fabrizio's aunt and Count Mosca at the Parmese court and elsewhere-but for Fabrizio himself and for his soul the incarceration in the tower is life-altering, for it is there that he develops a relationship with Clélia Conti (the warden's daughter). With the help of his ever-devoted aunt and Clélia, Fabrizio escapes.

But that is hardly the end of the story. Although Clélia marries another man, it is Fabrizio who fathers her child. The novel ends in a rush of events including the death of that child, the death of Clélia, the death of Fabrizio (after his retirement to the eponymous Parmese Charterhouse), and the death of Gina. The only glimmer of "happily ever after" seems to occur in the case of Count Mosca, who, back in Parma, assumes once again his old job as prime minister.

This may seem a sad and dismal tale, but critics repeatedly focus on the oddly farcical elements of the novel. Such moments abound, for example, in the Waterloo segment:

'The red-coats! the red-coats!' shouted the hussars joyfully. Fabrizio did not understand them at first. Then he perceived that almost all the corpses were dressed in red and, also, which gave him a thrill of horror, that a great many of these unhappy 'red-coats' were still alive. They were crying out, evidently asking for help, but nobody stopped to give it to them. Our hero, in his humanity, did all he could to prevent his horse from treading on any red uniform. The escort halted. Fabrizio, instead of attending to his duty as a soldier, galloped on, with his eye on a poor wounded fellow.

'Will you pull up, you idiot?' shouted the troop sergeant-major.

Further, the novel is infused with themes of love and passion, and this ensures that the book is far from a dark or dreary one. As Martin writes: "What is the result of all this passion in The Charterhouse? Energy. Change. Everything is stirred up." It may in fact be difficult at times to follow all the plot's activity and travels, the multiplicity of intrigues and manipulations within the text. And perhaps these qualities also contributed to why Stendhal was not quite the most "popular" writer in his own time, though his work was even then much admired among the cultural elite: one of Stendhal's most famous contemporaries, Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), praised The Charterhouse of Parma highly in a lengthy 1840 article. Some elements of the novel-such as Fabrizio's zeal for participating in a military battle or the reference to "The Jew landlord of their lodgings" (at the beginning of chapter 12)-may strike today's readers as unseemly.

But there is no question that today surveys of French literature link the name Stendhal with those of a few other great prose writers of the nineteenth century: Balzac, Gustave Flaubert (1821-80), and Emile Zola (1840-1902). And along with The Red and the Black, The Charterhouse of Parma remains one of Stendhal's greatest literary works. In an article published more than thirty years after Stendhal's death, Henry James went so far as to call The Charterhouse of Parma the Frenchman's "masterpiece" and his "chief title to the attention of posterity."

In the end, it's worth recalling the novel's own conclusion, one Stendhal used in other works: "To the Happy Few." It's a phrase often alluded to in Stendhal criticism, perhaps in reference to the author's own awareness of his limited audience in his own day. But this is an audience that has unquestionably grown, inspiring devoted stendhaliens-in Stendhal's native Grenoble and around the world-in the generations that have followed since Marie-Henri Beyle's death on March 23, 1842.

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