Stendhal’s Love – #1 Prefaces – Part One

I might end up doing quite a few little bloglets on Stendhal’s

Love – this, all as part of my investigations into modernism before modernism. I’m only 30-40 pages in, and already have quite a bit to say.

– Obviously, that I started with this specific book was no chance; it seemed like a fine candidate. – To digress completely from the point, however,

Epitaph of a Small Winner by Machado de Assis (who is getting so much attention at the moment that we’re almost loath to mention him) begins

its preface, as I was reminded the other day, thus:

When we learn from Stendhal that he wrote one of his books for only a hundred

readers, we are both astonished and disturbed. The world will be neither astonished nor, probably, disturbed if the present book has not one hundred

readers like Stendhal’s, nor fifty, nor twenty, nor even ten. Ten? Maybe five. It is, in truth, a diffuse work, in which I, Braz Cubas, if indeed I

have adopted the free form of a Sterne or of a Xavier de Maistre, have possibly added a certain peevish pessimism of my own.

Now I

don’t know whether we should be including Machado de Assis within or without our notion of modernism before modernism – he published this work, his

first in a style which we might connotate with modernism, in 1880 – roughly, that is, the same time as Knut Hamsun, whom we were looking at the other

day. – Maybe though, since most of the claims for modernist originality – at least in terms of the novel – are made about much later figures, Joyce,

Proust, Kafka, Woolf, Beckett – we should be looking at anything roughly nineteenth-century (since it is particularly the c19th century that people

like to contrast with the c20th: although, in so many areas, such a contrast – when examined closely – falls apart). – No surprise though about

Machado’s influences, that he should come up with something like modernism: – “Sterne and Xavier de Maistre”, he says – which is as much as to say

“Sterne and Sterne”, considering Mr Maistre’s own indebitedness. (I’m prepared to guess that every single book on my list is going to claim

influence from Sterne. – In fact, close readers of this blog may suppose a Sterne influence – something which we would here like to deny, believing

our voice came out of the ether and was honed entirely in isolation from the literary world – and is for that reason original and

extraordinary) – Oddly, though, in earlier editions of Epitaph of a Small Winner, Machado also credited Charles Lamb as a

third influence. – Now, I can’t say I ever really thought much about Lamb, since I only know him for simplifying Shakespeare for children – but now

I’m a little more intrigued. Lamb himself was very much influenced in his style by another English writer, Thomas Browne (so our trail of modernism

goes back ever farther), whom he claimed to have rediscovered. Later Virginia Woolf would become another champion of Browne. – And of course, another

influence on Machado was the ubiquitous Schopenhauer – who would also in time be an influence on, say, Beckett’s writing. (Schopenhauer himself,

apparently, was influenced by Tieck, Novalis and Hoffmann – whom, of course, we shall be getting to). – For the moment, we’re just colouring in

spaces.

Anyhow, to return to my point, the reference by Braz Cubas above is (as I’m sure we’re all aware) to Stendhal’s Love – but

enough for now, I’ve used up my word count and will leave you in anticipation on that cliff-hanger….

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