STENDHAL by Wallace Fowlie


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Stendhal was a late bloomer in every respect. He wrote his first novel, Armance, at the age of forty-four, and his greatest, La Chartreuse de Parme, at fifty-six, a few years before his death in 1842. While he influenced Bourget and Zola, it was not until the Twenties and the era of Proust, that other delinquent genius, that his mastery was acknowledged and Sainte-Beuve's critical summation overthrown: ""I have been re-reading, or trying to re-read, Stendhal's novels; frankly, they are detestable."" If Stendhal's psychology was in advance of his time, it is also true that he himself was enthralled by his own youth. ""Throughout his life,"" remarks Professor Fowlie, ""Stendhal saw with the eyes of a young man. His books are the stories of the aspirations and disappointments of young men."" Yet he was far from the Romanticist, either in style or vision, even though the signal characteristic of his heroes, especially Fabrice, is, as Fowlie notes, an ardor ""that withstands every attack of society and politics, every assault of meanness and envy."" Nevertheless, this ardor is always circumscribed, or deepened, by the ambiguity of Stendhal's temperament, the peculiar mixture of logic and sensuality, the need to construct a philosophical path within his famous ""field of action,"" an existential passion, a doctrine of lucidity for the ""outsider"" or the ""happy few,"" contingent on the mercurial changes of nature and history, a circuitous game of chance which so appealed to Proust, Gide, and Camus. Stendhal, of course, is the exemplary modern figure, blessed or burdened with all the contradictions: amorist and grand timide, epicurean and prudent bureaucrat. Professor Fowlie has composed a shrewd and attractive study, here and there marred by Christian pieties.

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1969
Publisher: Macmillan