The Charterhouse of Parma

BOOK: The Charterhouse of Parma
4.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

This translation was commissioned by
Ben Sonnenberg for the Grand Street Foundation.

2000 Modern Library Paperback Edition

Biographical note copyright © 1995 by Random House, Inc.
Translation copyright © 1999 by Richard Howard
Illustrations copyright © 1999 by Robert Andrew Parker
Maps copyright © 1999 by David Lindroth

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright
Conventions. Published in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This translation was originally published in hardcover by Modern Library, a division of Random House, Inc., in 1999.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to
The New York Times for
permission to reprint “After Waterloo,” by Daniel Mendelsohn, which appeared in
The New York Times Book Review
, August 29, 1999. Copyright © 1999 by The New York Times Company.
Reprinted by permission.

Stendhal, 1783–1842.
[Chartreuse de Parme. English] The charterhouse of Parma/Stendhal; translated from the French by Richard
p.   cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-79143-6
I. Howard, Richard, 1929–.   II. Title.
PQ2435.C4E5      2000
843’.7—dc21   98-36417

Modern Library website address:



Marie Henri Beyle—later known as Stendhal—was born in Grenoble on January 23, 1783. His mother, whom he idolized, died when he was seven, and he was raised by three people he detested—his bourgeois father, a prosperous lawyer; a jealous maiden aunt; and a tyrannical Jesuit tutor who inspired in him lifelong feelings of anticlericalism. The only person he felt any closeness to was his maternal grandfather, a respected physician who embraced the culture of the Enlightenment. In 1799, at the age of sixteen, the young man left for Paris to study mathematics at the École Polytechnique, but became a dragoon in Napoleon’s army the following year. The invasion of Italy took him to Milan, the city he came to love above all others; over the next decade he served as an aide-de-camp in Bonaparte’s campaigns in Germany, Austria, and Russia. In between wars he flourished in Parisian drawing rooms and devoted himself (unsuccessfully) to writing plays, all the while keeping elaborate journals that chronicled his travels and love affairs.

Following Napoleon’s fall in 1814, Beyle retired permanently from the army and settled in Milan, where he began to write in earnest. He soon produced
Lives of Haydn, Mozart, and Metastasio
(1814), followed by the two-volume
History of Painting in Italy
(1817). His next book— a travel guide entitled
Rome, Naples, and Florence in 181
7 (1817)—was the first to bear the pen name Stendhal, the most famous of the more than two hundred pseudonyms he employed in his lifetime. During this period he fell in love with Matilde Dembowski (née Viscontini), who served as the basis for his heroines. Suspected of being a French secret agent and of involvement in left-wing plots, the writer was expelled from Italy in 1821 by the Austrian police.

Upon returning to Paris, Stendhal immediately resumed
la chasse au bonheur
(the pursuit of happiness) and writing. He quickly finished the semi-autobiographical treatise
On Love (
1822), the critical study
Racine and Shakespeare
(1823), and
Life of Rossini
, the author’s first novel, appeared in 1827.
A Roman Journal
, a guidebook that marked Stendhal’s first real success, came out in 1829. Then in October of that year he began a novel based on a case reported in the
Gazette des Tribunaux
: the trial of a young man charged with the attempted murder of an ex-mistress. Published in 1830,
The Red and the Black
shocked the public with its incisive portrait of Restoration France, along with its probing psychological study of the complex protagonist, Julien Sorel. (“A novel is like a bow, and the violin that produces the sounds is the reader’s soul,” Stendhal liked to remind his audience.)

Following the July Revolution of 1830, which brought Louis Philippe to the throne, Stendhal returned to government service. In 1831 he was appointed consul to the port of Civitavecchia, some forty miles from Rome, where he spent many of his final years. During the 1830s Stendhal began two novels,
Lucien Leuwen
, both of which remained unfinished and were not published until long after his death. He also undertook two autobiographical works,
Memoirs of an Egotist
The Life of Henri Brulard
, which likewise appeared posthumously. In 1835 Stendhal was awarded the Legion of Honor for services to literature; the following year he returned to Paris on an extended leave of absence. There he started a biography of Napoleon and completed
Memoirs of a Tourist
(1838), a popular travel guide to France. Then, between November 4 and December 26 of 1838, the author dictated his last great novel,
The Charterhouse of Parma
(1839), a tale of political intrigue set in Italy. In failing health, he lived long enough to rejoice in Balzac’s generous praise of it. Stendhal died in Paris, following a series of strokes, on March 23, 1842, and was buried the next day in the cemetery of Montmartre.

“I will be famous around 1880,” Stendhal once predicted. Indeed, at about this time he began to attract widespread attention, and many of his previously unpublished books appeared—including
A Life of Napoleon
Journal of Stendhal
The Life of Henri Brulard
Memoirs of an Egotist
(1892), and
Lucien Leuwen
(1894). In the twentieth century such writers as Paul Léautaud, André Gide, and Paul Valéry have acclaimed Stendhal’s work. “We should never be finished with Stendhal,” said Valéry. “I can think of no greater praise than that.”










This tale was written in the winter of 1830 and three hundred leagues from Paris; hence no reference to the events of 1839.

Many years before 1830, at the time when our armies were overrunning Europe, I happened to be billeted in the house of a Canon: this was at Padua, a charming town in Italy; my stay being prolonged, we became friends.

Passing through Padua again toward the end of 1830, I hastened to the good Canon’s house: he was no longer alive, I knew, but I wanted another glimpse of the
where we had spent so many pleasant evenings, so often regretted since. I found the Canon’s nephew and this nephew’s wife, who received me like old friends. Several people came in, and we made a long night of it; the nephew ordered an excellent
from the Caffè Pedrocchi. What especially entertained us was the story of the Duchess Sanseverina, to which someone alluded, and which the nephew kindly told from beginning to end, in my honor.

“Where I am going,” I told my friends, “there will be no parties like this one, and to while away the long evenings. I shall make a novel out of your story.”

“In that case,” said the nephew, “I shall give you my uncle’s journal,
which under the heading
mentions several court intrigues from the days when the Duchess enjoyed absolute power there; but beware! the tale is anything but moral, and now that the French pride themselves on gospel purity, it may win you the reputation of an assassin.”

I publish this tale without altering the 1830 manuscript, hence two possible drawbacks:

The first for the reader: the characters, being Italian, may interest him less, since hearts in that country differ altogether from those in France: Italians are sincere, honest people, and if not intimidated will say what they think; only intermittently are they subject to vanity, which then becomes a passion and goes by the name of
. Furthermore, they do not hold poverty up to ridicule.

The second drawback concerns the author: though I have ventured to leave untouched all my characters’ irregularities of nature, I acknowledge having poured the deepest moral censure on many of their actions. Why ascribe to them the lofty morality and the graces of the French, who love money above all things and never sin out of love or hate? The Italians in this tale are virtually the opposite. Moreover, it seems to me that each time we venture two hundred leagues from South to North, we confront a new novel as well as a new landscape. The Canon’s charming niece had known and even been devoted to the Duchess Sanseverina, and begs me to alter nothing in her affairs, blameworthy as they are.

January 23, 1839

Milan in 1796

On May 15, 1796, General Bonaparte entered Milan at the head of that young army which had lately crossed the Lodi bridge and taught the world that after so many centuries Caesar and Alexander had a successor. The miracles of valor and genius Italy had witnessed in a few months wakened a slumbering nation: just eight days before the French arrived, the Milanese still regarded them as no more than a band of brigands who habitually fled before the troops of His Imperial and Royal Majesty: at least so they were told three times a week by a little news-sheet the size of a man’s hand, printed on dirty paper.

BOOK: The Charterhouse of Parma
4.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

RATH - Inception by Jeff Olah
Sasharia En Garde by Sherwood Smith
Invitation to Love by Lee, Groovy
The Killing House by Chris Mooney
The Alien King and I by Lizzie Lynn Lee
Varangian (Aelfraed) by Hosker, Griff
Strung (Seaside) by Rachel Van Dyken