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The Charterhouse of Parma Hardcover – February 9, 1999
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Officer, diplomat, spy, journalist, and intermittent genius, Marie Henri Beyle employed more than 200 aliases in the course of his crowded career. His most famous moniker, however, was Stendhal, which he affixed to his greatest work, The Charterhouse of Parma. The author spent a mere seven weeks cranking out this marvel in 1838, setting the fictional equivalent of a land-speed record. To be honest, there are occasional signs of haste, during which he clearly bypassed le mot juste in favor of narrative zing. So what? Stendhal at his sloppiest is still wittier, and wiser about human behavior, than just about any writer you could name. No wonder so meticulous a stylist as Paul Valéry was happy to forgive his sins against French grammar: "We should never be finished with Stendhal. I can think of no greater praise than that."
The plot of The Charterhouse of Parma suggests a run-of-the-mill potboiler, complete with court intrigue, military derring-do, and more romance than you can shake a saber at. But Stendhal had an amazing, pre-Freudian grasp of psychology (at least the Gallic variant). More than most of his contemporaries, he understood the incessant jostling of love, sex, fear, and ambition, not to mention our endless capacity for self-deception. No wonder his hero, Fabrizio de Dongo, seems to know everything and nothing about himself. Even under fire at the Battle of Waterloo, the young Fabrizio has a tendency to lose himself in Napoleonic reverie:
Suddenly everyone galloped off. A few moments later Fabrizio saw, twenty paces ahead, a ploughed field that seemed to be strangely in motion; the furrows were filled with water, and the wet ground that formed their crests was exploding into tiny black fragments flung three or four feet into the air. Fabrizio noticed this odd effect as he passed; then his mind returned to daydreams of the Marshal's glory. He heard a sharp cry beside him: two hussars had fallen, riddled by bullets; and when he turned to look at them, they were already twenty paces behind the escort.The quote above, a famous one, captures something of Stendhal's headlong style. Until now, most English-speaking readers have experienced it via C.K. Scott-Moncrieff's superb 1925 translation. But now Richard Howard has modernized his predecessor's period touches, streamlined some of the fussier locutions, and generally given Stendhal his high-velocity due. The result is a timely version of a timeless masterpiece, which shouldn't need to be updated again until, oh, 2050. Crammed with life, lust, and verbal fireworks, The Charterhouse of Parma demonstrates the real truth of its creator's self-composed epitaph: "He lived. He wrote. He loved." --James Marcus
"The Charterhouse of Parma has never sparkled in English with such radiance as it does in Richard Howard's new translation."
"[A] superb new translation."
--Bernard Knox, The New York Review of Books
"An epic tale of war, love, sex, politics, and religion...an action-packed narrative."
--The New Yorker
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
If you are a romantic, and you surely are if you are reading Stendhal, then it is the romance that you will love the most. The relationships between a number of the characters are poignant and simply beautiful at times for their simplicity and at times for their complexity.
There are novels that you fly through because you can't bear the suspense and there are others that let you savor and read and reread passages because there is clearly beauty on the page. Charterhouse is a novel you will remember for its beauty. Take your time with it and enjoy it.
The Plot: The long novel of over 500 pages (well translated into English by Richard Howard in the Modern Library Edition) is one long romp of adventures, escapes Machiavellian styled political intrigue at the post-Napoleonic court of a fatuous prince of Parma. The hero of the piece is callow Fabrizio Del Dongo. Fabrizio is a somewhat dim witted lad who is present at the battle of Waterloo (one of the best descriptions of the horrors of war in all French fiction). Fabrizio grows up at his distant father's villa at Grianata on Lake Como. Stendhal's novel takes place in Parma and Lombardy and he was infatuated by the Italian way of life.
Fabrizio is mentored by two key characters: His aunt Gina Pietranera and Count Mosca her lover and a power at the Parmesian
court. Fabrizio is often in love with such luscious creatures as Marietta an actress and Clelia Conti. Clelia is the daughter of the jailer who keeps Fabrizio imprisoned in the Tower of Farnese. He is incarcerated because of his killing of Giletti a rival in love. After many complications, Fabrizio ends his day in quiet retirement at the Charterhouse of Parma.
The book is difficult to read! I found Stendhal's style to be dry and difficult to follow. He was an early experimenter at interior monolgue in the minds of his characters. The book has plenty of action, romance, intrigue and excitement. It is an essential book in one's literary appreciation of great clasics. Stendhal wrote for what he called the "happy few." Enjoy!