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How Stendhal can change your life ( part two)

Serge Gainsbourg Et Jane Birkin

Stendhal believed a writer is a man who knows the human heart. He knew the human heart extremely well, and he is probably the only French writer who invented two phenomenon linked with human feelings.

The first phenomenon is called the Stendhal’s Syndrome, and the second, The Crystallization.In 1817 Stendhal visited a cathedral in Florence, and saw Giotto’s frescoes for the first time. He was mesmerized by such beauty: he had vertigo and became sick, exactly like Clara in front of Notre-Dame.

“I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.” ––Stendhal, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio

Giotto's fresco

Giotto’s fresco

What is ironic is that Stendhal would have probably rejected the idea that Clara could feel his syndrome in Paris. He hated Paris, and believed only Italy was worth visiting and living.. However, everybody has known at least once the same experience as––in Paris, in Italy, or anywhere else in the world. Physically feeling the beauty of a perfect landscape or an artistic masterpiece and almost fainting.

A Norwegian friend of mine explained to me that he has been hypnotized by the sculpture of Nefertiti, the gorgeous Egyptian queen, he saw in the National Museum of Berlin. She had such a perfect face, he told me, “I could not stop staring at her for a long time. I was so impressed by her beauty that I had chills.





But Stendhal did not have luck in love. His romantic misfortunes led to the formulation of his second phenomenon. Like a soldier, he thought that a man must conquer a woman in battle. He fell madly in love with the beautiful countess Matilde Viscontini-Dembowski, whom he met in Milano in 1819. Unfortunately for Stendhal, he was unable to seduce Matilde because his deep love for her was not returned. He suffered os much that he even thought about committing suicide.

To cure his grief and take distance from his pain, he decided to write a book. Instead of writing a novel, he decided to write a psychological book analyzing how and why humans fall in love. Stendhal examined all the steps of love’s feeling in 1822 in his book About Love (De l’amour).

And he discovered a second psychological phenomenon, called “The Crystallization.” As he visited a salt mine in Salzburg, he observed a chemical reaction on a branch that he threw into the mine. A few weeks later, he saw this ordinary branch become unrecognizable. The branch was covered with salt and was shining as if covered with diamonds. The transformation made by crystalized salt became Stendhal’s metaphor for the love of a human being. According to Stendhal, when someone falls in love, he creates the same phenomenon of crystallization on his lover as the crystals of salt. It’s a bit like the expression “Love is blind”, but Stendhal invented a subtler concept. With the phenomenon of “Crystallization,” Stendhal explains that when you fall in love, you invent qualities that the person you love does not have. “What I call ‘crystallization’ is the operation of the mind that draws form all that presents itself the discovery that the loved object has some new perfections.” ––Stendhal “About love” (1822).

The poet of French pop music, Serge Gainsbourg, who is well known for his sensibility and his cynicism, shared the same vision of love as Stendhal. Gainsbourg wrote a song titled C’est la Cristallisation comme dit Stendhal (It is the Crystallization as says Stendhal). Serge Gainsbourg sings, “if you lose just one instant of your lucidity, you are done, it is the Crystallization as says Stendhal.”

Fortunately, Stendhal fell in love again. In 1830, the eternal bachelor fell in love with Giulia Rinieri, a charming Italian woman from the city of Sienna. He asked her to marry him, and she refused. But she told him these exquisite love words: “I perfectly know that you are ugly and old, but I do love you.”

I recently discovered in my favorite magazine Le magazine Littéaire, that Stendhal is a beloved and popular writer in China. It is not surprising because Stendhal’s subtle analysis of the human heart is universal. Stendhal wrote about love and ambition, and the syndrome and the crystallization are important…

The Red and the Black has been translated 28 times in China. The first translation in Chinese was done in 1940, but had been made from the English version. In 1954, The Red and the Black was translated from the original French.

This same year, Somerset Maugham selected this book among the ten best novels in the world. Stendhal would have been very surprised to see that his book provoked intense literary and political debates in China.


Mao Zedong read The Red and the Black many times. But in 1960, Chinese socialist propaganda decided that this book was no longer a masterpiece. Chinese universities declared that The Red and the Black was a “toxic herb,” a rotten and decadent book, which apologized for the bourgeois way of life. The Red and the Black remained out of favor for two decades, until 1980 when the Chinese rediscovered Stendhal’s novel. The Chinese of the 1980s strongly identified with Julien Sorel; a young man alone against society. He wants to fight against injustices and succeed by himself, as Napoléon did before him. Julien Sorel became a symbol in China of the individualistic, ambitious young man.

During the 1980’s Chinese translators argued and divide into two camps: the Conservatives and the Moderns. The conservatives believed they had to adapt the French language to Chinese and create a Chinese aesthetic. On the reverse, a young and modern Chinese could not sacrifice the original French when converting to Chinese and had to make a faithful and exact translation. The last sentence of The Red and the Black is: “[Madame de Rênal] mourut en embrassant ses enfants” (Madame de Rênal died kissing her children.) But Xu Yuanchong, a conservative translator, instead of using the verb “to die” in Chinese preferred to write “The soul of Madame de Rênal comes back to the sky full of grief of separations,” which refers to the ending of the classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber.



The poetical sentence “The soul comes back to the sky full of grief of separations” means to die. This original way to translate French provoked a violent debate among Chinese university professors. What was the best translation? The literal translation, which imitates the original novel or the poetical translation, which creates and invents?

Xu Jun, teacher in the department of the Foreign Languages at the University of Nankin asked the public about the translations of The Red and the Black. In April 1995, the literary newspaper from Shanghai, To Read, asked to readers ten questions about four translation of the French novel. Hundreds of people answered. Eighty percent of the people preferred a translation that respects the original language. But not all Chinese people agreed.


In 1996, Chinese passion for this subject was so intense that Xu Ju wrote the first book about the translation of a French book in Chinese: Verb, Literature, Culture. The debate is ongoing, because there continue to be new Chinese translations of The Red and the Black. Stendhal not only doest not know geographical borders but also has no limits on time.

In 1900, the first «Stendhal Club» has been created in France, with famous members as the French painter Paul Signac. Then in 1950, the fonder of the famous Parisian bookshop « Le divan» in Saint-Germain des Prés created another «Stendhal Club». And Its probably not a coincidence if the address of this literary club dedicated to Stendhal was 37,rue…Bonaparte. More than 150 years later, the Stendhal Club has been made alive in 2011 by the French writer, Charles Dantzig ,author of «the selfish dictionary of the French literature».

Among the prestigious members of this fan-club there is only one woman, Mrs Teresa Cremisi. Teresa Cremisi does not speak Chinese, but she speaks Arabic, French, English, Greek, and Italian. She was the director of the prestigious French publishing house Gallimard, and then the director of the large French publisher Flammarion. Just before her retirement she wrote a book, which is a novel based on her life, La Triomphante. She was born in the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria, Egypt in 1945. Her father had an Italian passport and her mother a British passport. In 1956, during the war of the Suez Canal, her family escaped from Egypt and moved to Italy. When she was a little girl , she was dreaming in front of the Aboukir bay in Egypt and remembering the glorious Aboukir battle of Napoléon. She dreamt to have the same destiny than Napoléon . She would sleep with a portrait of Napoléon under her pillow.Her parents were not French, but they always worshiped France, the French language, and French culture.


When she was a happy 10-year-old girl, she was thrown out of a paradise full of perfumes and colors. Her love of literature helped her to bear her loneliness and her exile. In her unstable life Teresa Cremisi created a stable world full of books. She always had to fight, as a woman, as a foreigner and as an outsider, but at the end, she won brilliantly her battle. A journalist once asked Cremisi about her favorite writers. She answered Conrad, Proust… and Stendhal. The journalist asked her what was the strongest influence of literature on her life. She replied, “The count Mosca, one of the heroes of Stendhal’s book The Charterhouse of Parma because of the advice he gives to act in society. I just tried to follow his wise advice in my own life.”


Teresa Cremisi

Teresa Cremisi

Obviously the advice of the count Mosca was efficient because this magnificent Italian woman became the Pope of French literature for many years. She became the boss of 650 employees and discovered the most successful contemporary French writers: Michel Houellbeque, Catherine Millet, Yasmina Réza, and Michel Onfray. The subtle sensibility and the knowledge of the human soul translated by Stendhal in his books can still teach us how to behave in life and win our own battles.

Thats why Stendhal is so universal and is still very modern, for men and women. Simone de Beauvoir wrote in the bible of feminism «The Second Sex « that Stendhal is the one of the first feminists.She explains that Stendhal understood that if the woman is inferior its because of her education. Beauvoir applauds when Stendhal says that the woman is a free human-being and authentic as Madame de Rênal who does not have prejudice bourgeois.

Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir

No doubt that Stendhal would have loved that in the 21st century Teresa Cremisi ,an Italian, a woman, and a fan of Napoléon succeed so brilliantly in her life, thanks to Stendhal’s love of literature.

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