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Once Fabrizio had made his first Communion, she persuaded the Marchese, still in voluntary exile, to allow him to leave the College from time to time. She found her nephew to be singular, witty, very serious, but a fine-looking boy and by no means a liability to the salon of a fashionable lady; furthermore, he was quite ignorant, scarcely knowing how to write his name. The Countess, whose enthusiastic character was evident in all she undertook, promised her protection to the establishment if her nephew made remarkable progress and carried off many prizes by the year's end. In order to afford him the means of deserving them, she sent for Fabrizio every Saturday evening and frequently returned him to his masters only the following Wednesday or Thursday. The Jesuits, though dearly beloved by the Prince-Viceroy, were under sentence of expulsion from Italy by the laws of the realm, and the Superior of the College, a cunning fellow, perceived all the advantage he might derive from his relations with a woman omnipotent at court. He was careful not to complain of Fabrizio's absences, and at the year's end the boy, ignorant as ever, obtained five first prizes. On this stipulation, the brilliant Countess Pietranera, accompanied by her husband, commanding general of one of the divisions of the Guard, and by five or six of the greatest figures of the viceregal court, attended the prize-giving at the Jesuit College. The director was complimented by his superiors.
The Countess included her nephew in all those brilliant parties which marked the too brief reign of the lovable Prince Eugène. She had created him, by her authority, Officer of the Hussars, and Fabrizio, at twelve, woretheir uniform. One day the Countess, delighted by his fine turnout, requested that the Prince give him a page's functions, which would mean that the del Dongo family was recovering its position. The following day she needed all her influence to keep the Viceroy from remembering this request, which lacked nothing but the consent of the future page's father, and this consent would have been vehemently refused. After this folly, which made the surly Marchese shudder, he found a pretext to recall young Fabrizio to Grianta. The Countess felt sovereign contempt for her brother; she regarded him as a grim fool who would commit any wickedness within his power. But she was wildly devoted to Fabrizio, and after ten years of silence, she wrote to the Marchese in order to reclaim her nephew: her letter was left unanswered.
On his return to that formidable castle built by the most bellicose of all his ancestors, Fabrizio knew of nothing better to do than to drill and to ride. Count Pietranera, as fond of the boy as his wife, had often put him on horseback and had taken him along on parade.
Arriving at the Castle of Grianta, Fabrizio, eyes still red with tears shed upon leaving behind his aunt's splendid salon, met with nothing but the passionate caresses of his mother and his sisters. The Marchese was shut up in his study with his elder son, the Marchesino Ascanio. Here they concocted letters in code which had the honor to be sent to Vienna; father and son appeared only at mealtimes. The Marchese repeated meaningfully that he was teaching his natural successor to keep double-entry accounts of what his estates produced. In fact, the Marchese was too jealous of his power to speak of such things to a son who was the inevitable heir to all these entailed properties. He kept him busy coding despatches of fifteen or twenty pages, which he forwarded to Switzerland two or three times a week, whence they made their way to Vienna. The Marchese claimed to inform his legitimate sovereigns of the internal condition of Italy, of which he himself knew nothing, though his letters enjoyed a great success. This is the reason: the Marchese's trustworthy agent counted the soldiers changing garrison in every French or Italian regiment, and in reporting this fact to the Austrian court, he scrupulously diminished by at least a quarter the number of soldiers in the field. Absurd as they were, these letters had the merit of giving the lie to more accurate ones, and they pleased their recipients. Hence, shortly before Fabrizio's arrival at the castle, the Marchese had received the Star of a renowed Order; it was the fifth one to embellish his Chamberlain's coat. True, he suffered the chagrin of not daring to sport this garment outside his study; but he never allowed himself to dictate a despatch without having first put on the coat embroidered with gold lace and embellished with all his decorations. He would have felt he was lacking in respect had he proceeded otherwise.
The Marchesa was astonished by her son's graceful manners. But she was still in the habit of writing two or three times a year to General-Count d'A---- (the current name of Lieutenant Robert). The Marchesa had a horror of lying to those she cared for; she questioned her son and was appalled by his ignorance.
"If he seems uneducated to me, ignorant as I am," she mused, "Robert, who is so learned, would find his education absolutely inadequate; yet nowadays it is true ability that counts." Another peculiarity which amazed her almost as much was that Fabrizio had taken seriously all the religious notions he had learned from the Jesuits. Though quite pious herself, her son's fanaticism made her tremble; "If the Marchese has the wit to divine this source of influence, he will rob me of my son's love." She shed a great many tears, and her passion for Fabrizio was thereby increased.
Life in this castle, inhabited by thirty or forty servants, was gloomy indeed; hence Fabrizio spent all his days hunting or rowing on the lake. Soon he was closely attached to the coachmen and the grooms; all were wild partisans of the French and openly derided the pious lackeys serving the Marchese or his elder son. The principal excuse for their mockery of these solemn personages was that they powdered their hair in imitation of their masters.
1. This novel has often been praised for its effect upon readers. The French writer Jean Giraudoux famously remarked that it produces "some incomparable air of which every human being needs absolutely to have taken at least one breath before they die." Discuss the overall effect of Richard Howard's new translation of Charterhouse on you as a reader.
2. The impetuous, idealistic Fabrizio is, like many of the characters that inhabit this novel, an intensely vivid literary realization. Discuss Fabrizio's character, and in particular his relationship to authority and the state as we follow the course of his tempestuous life.
3. Some have argued that the true heroes of this book are Fabrizio's aunt and her lover. Do you agree?
4. Stendhal was an officer in Napoleon's army, and later a diplomat in Italy. How do these experiences play into the places and events recounted in the novel? Could only a seasoned diplomat have rendered court intrigue with Stendhal's precision?
5. A number of critics (for instance, French feminist Simone de Beauvoir) have noted that female characters are often more sympathetically portrayed than male characters in Stendhal's work. Do you agree? Discuss the way Stendhal treats femininity and masculinity in Charterhouse, and the virtues and foibles that seem to be associated with each.
6. Stendhal wrote this novel in a breathtaking fifty-two days, a pace reflected in the galloping prose style. Remarking on this, Bernard Knox, in The New York Review of Books, wrote, "From the very beginning the narrative takes the reader by storm with its fervid pace ... and this speed lies at the base of another aspect ofthe narrative, its unpredictability." Discuss this comment, and your reaction to the pace and plot of The Charterhouse of Parma.