STENDHAL AND THE AGE OF NAPOLEON: An Interpretive Biography by Gita May

STENDHAL AND THE AGE OF NAPOLEON: An Interpretive Biography

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Stendhal was born Henri Beyle; and his remarkable character and ideas gave rise to the term Beylism. Beylism, says Gita May (French Literature, Columbia), is an adventurous attitude toward life which, ""above all, demands rigor and lucidity in reasoning and absolute devotion to truth and clear thinking."" Taking this attitude as the key to Stendhal, May seeks its sources and ramifications throughout his life and works. A shy, introspective, and inquisitive youth, Beyle was nourished on the critical ideas of the Enlightenment, to which he remained loyal, and became ""the spiritual son of Rousseau"" through an affinity of non-conformist temper. While identifying romantically with the heroism of Napoleon during the wars of revolution and Empire, he developed powerful worldly ambitions along with the ardor, self-mastery, and skill at dissimulation necessary to achieve them--hence he adroitly rose to prominence in the Imperial government and society. When he translated these ideals and experiences into fiction, he wrote at great speed to insure truthfulness and sincerity without serf-indulgence; then he published them under the pseudonym, Stendhal, only one of the many devices employed to conceal himself from friends and enemies alike. A writer ""isolated and misunderstood among his contemporaries,"" Stendhal was a man torn yet inspired by internal contradictions. May illumines these contradictions and the 20th century's fascination with them through her subtle, even-handed analysis of Stendhal's experience and writings and a gracefully assured prose. This is an excellent concise critical biography to set alongside the kindred essays by Brombert, Fowlie, and Wood.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press