Sunday, 21 November 2010

THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA by Stendhal


I kept meaning to read something by Stendhal, ever since I learnt about Stendhal Syndrome. Quite different to Stockholm Syndrome, this is when you are so overwhelmed by the beauty of a place or event that you become ill. Apparently, this happened to Stendhal when he first went to Florence. It makes me feel a bit inadequate. I'm not sure I've ever been so overcome by beauty that it made me ill. Though actually, come to think of it, I was sick in Florence. But that had more to do with an quaint traditional sandwich I had than with great art. The filling was all juicy and . . . bouncy. I don't eat much meat, so I just thought, maybe I've just forgotten what meat tastes like. But then I looked at the filling itself, and immediately feeling some serious concerns, looked it up in the phrase book, and found out it was SHEEP STOMACH.

So that was more sheep stomach syndrome than stendahl syndrome. Though I did learn a valuable lesson: do not eat apparently quaint and traditional foods in foreign countires without doing your research.

Anyway, THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA. First of all, extra points for a great title. This book tells the story of one Fabrizio del Dongo, the younger son of a wealthy nobleman, who is inspired by liberal ideals runs away to support Napoleon, arriving just in time for the walloping defeat of Waterloo. He is then in trouble with his very conservative father and has to go on the run, escaping various perils from treacherous courtiers to enraged actors. He is sheilded by his aunt, with whom, in a bizarre turn of events, he starts to have an incestuous relationship. I can't tell you what happens after that because I kind of gave up on page 225. It was just ridiculous, he kept going from one swashbuckling adventure to the next and I got bored. Either there is something wrong with Stendhal or with Sarah.

There were a few great bits. The French Revolution has only taken place some fiftly years before, and there is a very interesting series of discussions about what the end of reverence for nobility means for nobles such as Fabrizio. There are some hilarious minature pen portraits, such as, on the people of nineteenth century Parma: "they sat on the pavement eating icecream and criticizing passersby;" or, on discussing rural peoples' superstitions – "What do you expect! These people had hardly read four books in their whole lives!"

2 comments:

  1. Sarah, hello again.

    I haven't read _Charterhouse_, but I read _Red and the Black_, and enjoyed it immensely. One line has stayed with me for some years, said by one character about another. It goes mostly like this: He's turned himself into a hammer so he won't become an anvil. My copy is not at hand - it's in storage, along with 99% of my books - but I do recall that many pages in that book have notes next to them. Maybe it's a better book than _Charterhouse_.

    I find myself better able to handle french 19th century lit. than 19th century eng. lit. Dickens, Thackeray, Austen - they can't get me interested like Balzac, say, or Melville (esp. _The Confidence-Man_), or Dostoevsky do.

    regards,
    Jeff

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  2. Oh hi again Jeff! The hammer/anvil thing is very interesting. I most confess I am great lover of the 19th century across countries - England, France, I love a big old book with a continuous narrative. My particular obsession is embarrasingly Proust, though I'm not sure he really classifies as 19th C . . .

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