Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Witticisms from Stendhal

I have been reading The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal and found something which really cracked me up. It is not that funny, but somehow. Here is his description how a woman plans to revenge a man in Italy:

She [the countess] multiplied her attentions to Limercati, seeking to awaken his love and subsequently to forsake him, reducing him to despair. In order to render such a scheme of revenge intelligible to French readers, I should explain that in Milan, a region quite remote from our own, a man may still be driven to despair by love.

So how does it compare with what people do in France? He says, in his book on Love, "The great majority of men, especially in France, both desire and possess a fashionable woman, much in the way one might own a fine horse, as a luxury befitting a young man."

Stendhal was perhaps one of the greatest psychologists of love in literature. The Red and the Black is my favourite romantic novel. He is also credited with writing "the driest book about love ever written" (linked above), of course it will appear dry to those who don't get his irony and sense of humour. He shows that it is not just heart (or our emotions) which play tricks on us but rather our brain (the rational faculties) which force to see things in its own way, specially the kind of sweet hypocrisy and deceit that is involved in the act of falling in love. The keyword is "sweet", because unlike his fellow countryman and fellow novelist Flaubert he was not a bitter pessimist at all. Not that I have any problem with bitter pessimism but some liveliness and a sense of humour about bad things of life always helps.

Actually, I am finding The Charterhouse of Parma a little heavy-going and my pitiful ignorance of the history of the Napoleonic wars and general European history at the turn of the eighteenth century is not helping matters either. Looks like I will have to close the book and spend some time with the wikipedia!

To end here is another quote from the same page in the book:

That absurd courage known as resignation, the courage of a fool who lets himself be hanged without uttering a word, was not among countess's qualities.

9 comments:

adhyayan said...

Have you read 'Being and Time'?
Why is it always that these nice seeming books are so huge, that they me put me off from reading..
even the 'maladies' book seemed from so archaic times...

Alok said...

No, haven't read it. I don't even know what is it about...
reading does demand a lot of commitment in terms of time and energy.

which maladies book are you talking of by the way?

Antonia said...

heidegger??
I like Stendahl, too and the last sentence you quoted and especially this cheerful moment in Stendhal, this slightly amusing gestures...very nice, this positive out look on life.

Alok said...

yes and it is interesting because Stendhal doesn't glorify things at all. His outlook towards the world and human nature or relationships is quite dark but even despite that, his voice and tone is always full of humour and full of life. He must have been a great character in his real life!

Antonia said...

yes exactly, he is not superficial and not bitter, yet lenient and appears to have great insights in the human condition, that these made his books not bitter but rather more innocent is a great achievement. Just this book you quote there I have not read...have you read his Lucien? Have it here at home, but also not yet read. My favourite is Life of Henri Brulard....
Im gonna make a link from my blog to yours since you have so much interesting stuff going on here...

Alok said...

thanks, i haven't read those two books that you mention. they are on my list, specially henry brulard.

I have read The Red and the Black of which I am a great fan and his book on Love, which is a very curious book. very funny, in a weird dry sort of way.

I had written about the love-book a few months back. it is amateurish but it might be interesting...

link to stendhal related posts

thanks for linking. I am reading your blog too. I will add you to my blogroll too.

Antonia said...

that was a very nice reading, makes me want to reread that all again, if I only had the time. Striking also this focus always on Werther and Don Juan as the everlasting paradgims and oppositions...reminded me a bit of Kierkegaard who also said Don Juan is unhappier. Again, very nice to read what you wrote about Stendhal, especially the two ealierst posts.

Alok said...

I have read a few secondary pieces on Kierkegaard, essays and overviews. I think he writes about Don Juan in his Either/Or...About how a life of aestheticism reduces one to despair in the end.

actually in a way Werther is not much different. I think if he hadn't committed suicide he would have definitely turned into a Don Juan and Don Juna must have been a Werther in his teenage :)

Antonia said...

haha of course you are absolutely right with Don Juan being a Werther in adolescence....