Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendahl

After a long hiatus, involving a 3600-mile road trip wrapped around a week grading the AP English Literature exams, which left me little time for reading, I am back.

Stendahl’s The Red and the Black has long been one of my favorite 19th century novels. How I had not read The Charterhouse of Parma in all these years remains a mystery with no further need of resolving. This novel is another masterpiece by Marie Henri Beyle who wrote under the pen name of Stendahl. This novel bears some resemblance of plot to The R & B. The main character, Fabrizio, first tries the military (red), but later settles on the clergy (black), although the results in both cases are dramatically different.

At first I felt some confusion over titles. Some were in French, some in Italian, and some in English. Only once did Stendahl explain names and relationships, and then refer only to these characters by their titles. About half way through, I began to become accustomed to this habit, and I sailed through the rest of this 500+ page story.

The notes in the preface tell us that Stendahl wrote this novel in an amazing 53 days. He kept a journal of his progress, noting each day how many pages he had written. The story has a certain level of complication, but no careful reader will fall off the sled more than a time or two.

Another thing that puzzled me involved money. Francs, livrés, écus, and sequins were flying all over the place – sometimes in the same sentence – and I could not grasp the relative values of these denominations. A trip to my faithful friend and companion, the dictionary, did not help, since it only offered dates, precious metals, and countries that had issued these coins.

Nevertheless, the 19th century represents my old comfortable chair that I return to again and again. It gets more comfortable with each visit. The ending came as a pretty nice surprise, even though Stendahl did tie up all the loose ends in about 16 pages. 4-1/2 stars.

--Chiron, 6/20/09

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