The Stendhal bibliography is already extensive, and this bright, impressive biography -- the first in English in 30 years -- mainly reconfirms what is already known about Henri Beyle, the extraordinary novelist whose real profession, he once said, was that of an ""observer of the human heart."" Born in Grenoble in 1783, this uneducated provincial -- and indeed dilettante who in his early works lifted freely from the ideas of others -- at the age of sixteen escaped to the salon life of Paris; yet he was equally hateful about both societies, his trenchant views fortified by his cynicism, bitterness and contemptuousness. It was the vigor and spontaneity of the Italians that he much preferred, but his years as Consul at Civitavecchia proved to be stifling, and in most unorthodox fashion he spent that long diplomatic assignment away in Rome, Milan and other Italian cities, and even in Paris where on one occasion he extended a six-month leave to three years. (From this period came the posthumously published Lucien Leuwen about an idealistic, wise and aging Consul.) It was I'amour, though, that was M. Beyle's lifelong preoccupation; he was forever agonizing over his awkwardness and inarticulateness with women, yet his successes, right up to old age when he was corpulent and in bad health, suggest that he could in fact be enormously charming and poised. With careful scholarship, Richardson (whose most recent biographies are Verlaine and Enid Starkie) discusses the man along with the works as she assesses the calculating character of Julien Sorel, the weak and tormented Octave de Malivert -- and she illustrates why Stendhal, even if formed by the Age of Romanticism, is, like all great writers, a novelist for all seasons.