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4.0 out of 5 stars A strange blend of realism and romanticism, April 25, 2012
This review is from: The Charterhouse Of Parma (Paperback)
Stendhal is the pseudonym of Marie Henri Beyle (b. January 23, 1783 in Grenoble; d. March 23, 1842 in Paris), a French writer who wrote two outstanding novels: The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma.

The Charterhous of Parma is a tale of political intrigue set in 19th-century Italy, in the years following Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Stendhal speaks of "our hero," Fabrizio Valserra, Marchesino del Dongo, a young man who joins Bonaparte's army the day before the historic battle. It is also the story of Fabrizio's aunt, Angelina-Cornelia-Isola Valserra del Dongo, Duchess Sanseverina, who engages in court intrigues, battling a rival political faction, to promote Fabrizio's career.

The plot of The Charterhouse of Parma evolves in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, in which liberal philosophers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot, as did Napoleon in the military field, had challenged the conservative religious and tyrannical political powers of the aristocratic establishment. The tale conjures up the ghost of Machiavelli's The Prince.

A strange blend of realism and romanticism, the novel is a fascinating study of an intriguing power struggle between passion and reason, and a moving love story between two star-crossed lovers: Fabrizio, who becomes a theological student in a Jesuit seminary, and a beautiful young woman, Clelia Conti.

What is one to make of such a complicated, convoluted tale? Honore Balzac considered it the most important French novel of his time. Andre Gide believed it to be the greatest of French novels; and Henry James judged it to be a masterpiece. Perhaps so, for who dares contradict such world-famous writers and literary critics. However, the novel has its flaws. The hero has so many derring-do escapes as to strain the reader's credulity. And the reticence of Clelia and Fabrizio to express their mutual love is perplexing, especially to 21st-century minds. Also, one often has trouble keeping straight the many characters who populate the tale. For this reason, I give the novel only four stars. Nevertheless, I recommend this work; one must have patience to read it, but overall it's a rewarding experience.

My interest in reading The Charterhouse of Parma was sparked by Nietzsche's comment that, after Fyodor Dostoyesky, Stendhal was the novelist from whom he learned the most psychology. My next reading project? Stendhal's The Red and the Black.

This edition is a new translation from the French by Richard Howard, includes original illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker, and Notes and a Translator's Afterword by Mr. Howard.
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