Stendhal initiated a ""quiet revolution in literary consciousness,"" writes Robert Alter, by becoming more entangled than any previous novelist in the ambiguities of truth and falsehood--whether in personality, social life, or art. Taking a firm hold on ""narrative and interpretive strands,"" Alter unravels the tangles of Stendhal's character and art that he believes responsible for this revolution. A ""student of the pursuit of happiness,"" especially in love (hence the title), Stendhal was determined to record his every mood, and these moods became a prime source of his fiction. An insistent exponent of sincerity, Stendhal was nonetheless uncertain of himself (he used some 200 pseudonymns); so, understandably, his characters' motives often seem other than they are. His disillusion during the Napoleonic wars was reflected in Julien Sorel's confused sense of heroism in The Red and the Black. Naturally autobiographical, he discovered that language both masks and mirrors life--and, in his writings, explored the relation of clichâ€š and originality. Alter, the author of Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre (1975) among others, is well-suited to this complex task of joining Stendhal's life and works. The result is a biography much denser in critical insights than its predecessors (including the most recent, by Gita May, which emphasizes Stendhal's intellectual affinities) and more responsive to Stendhal's experience than the fine critical essays by Victor Brombert, Michael Wood, and Robert Martin Adams.