Last month I attended a party organized by an American friend who lives part-time in Paris. There, I met Clara, a friendly American woman in her fifties.
She explained to me that it was her first time in Paris, and that she had saved her money to be able to travel to the city of her dreams. She had fallen in love with Paris as soon as she arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport.
“It must be real love,” I thought, “how you can fall in love with the airport?”.
Clara went on to explain that she had visited Notre-Dame at night, and became so impressed by the beauty of the ancient cathedral that she had an aesthetic shock. She felt this magnificence in her body and mind, and suddenly her heart began to beat, very quickly. She realized something strange was happening inside her, and she started to cry, overwhelmed by such emotion.
I told her, as I bit into my foie gras toast, that she had just experienced Stendhal’s Syndrome. “The syndrome …what?” she asked me. “S-T-E-N-D-H-A-L,” I spelled, “was a French writer from the 19th century. Just before he died, he became famous due to his book, The Charterhouse of Parma.
This recognition came thanks to French writer, Honoré de Balzac, who wrote that Stendhal’s novel was a ‘masterpiece of the literature of ideas. »
Today, all French teenagers know of Stendhal, because in high schools they study his most famous book, The Red and the Black (le Rouge et le Noir).It is the story of a handsome man, Julien Sorel, who is shy and poor, but ambitious. He dreams to be as successful as Napoléon. He falls in love with a rich, married woman, Madame de Rênal. He ultimately escapes to Paris, and seduces another young aristocrat, Mathilde. Julien is about to marry her but he tries to kill Madame de Rênal, and is condemned to death. Madame de Rênal, who survived, and Mathilde, who is pregnant, both try to save Julien Sorel. The love story ends tragically. Julien is killed, and Madame de Rênal dies three days after him.
If you dont have time to read the book ,you can aslo watch the great movie ,The Red and the Black (Le rouge et le noir) made by the director Claude Autant-Lara in 1954.
You will admire the charismatic French actor Gérard Philippe and the gracefull Danielle Darieux, who is the favorite actress of the French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.
Stendhal is the French Jane Austen. Like Austen, he was a romantic who wrote about love and the relationships between men and women. But it would be Jane Austen, not Stendhal, who would have been a soldier at the age of 17 in Napoléon’s army. He fell in love with Italy when he did participate to the Italian campaign of Napoleon. He felt himself as a «Milanese» and Italy became his homeland.
In Milano, «the most beautiful place on earth « loved everything: landscapes, painting,music, the true passion and of course the italian women. Stendhal had always a fascination for Italy and Napoléon. He did follow Napoléon’s army not only Italy but also in the tragic defeat of Moscow and wrote two books about his hero. Born Henry Beyle , Stendhalt took his nickname from a German village near Brunswick where he had an administrative work during the Napoléons occupation.
Stendhal has been all his life faithful to Bonaparte because he is been so impressed by his huge energy, his big charisma and his incredible glory . But he has been also very lucid and critic about Napoléon,this «freedom’s thief».
For Stendhal, Napoléon is the perfect novel’s character : Napoléon Bonaparte, son of the French Revolution, came from nowhere, had no manners and a strong Corsican accent in French but he had a mythical destiny thanks to his extraordinary tenacity and military genius. Napoléon became the legendary hero of all the French Romantic writers from the 19th century who were all bored in a bourgeoise society .
As the great romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine said about the emperor: he was « le Dieu d’une génération qui s’ennuit»(«he was the God of a bored’s generation»). Its not surprising that Napoléon had a strong influence on the Stendhal’s novel. In «The Red and the Black» Julien Sorel, will have the same incredibly fast and prodigious social advancement as Napoléon.
In «The Charterhouse of Parma» Stendhal describes how Napoléon brings the justice and the Enlightenement’s ideas from the French Revolution to free the Italians who are on the tyrany of Austrians Napoléon is for Fabrice, the heroe who did fight in the Waterloo’s battle, the figure of a father he worships. The count Mosca,another character of this novel, did participate to the Spain’s army and all his best friends were the faithful soldiers of Bonaparte.
(to be continued…)