As we were saying, when Stendhal claims, in one of the several
prefaces to his work Love, that it was only written for 100 readers, we may see this as a justification after the fact: – for he says, in his
third preface, that between 1822 and 1833 the book garnered a grand total of 17 readers. In the first preface he writes:
This book has
met with no success: it has been found unintelligible, and not without cause.
He goes on to (hypothesise on why and to) stipulate
precisely those people who shouldn’t be reading his book:
Though I have made every effort to be clear and lucid I cannot work
miracles; I cannot give hearing to the deaf, nor sight to the blind. So people with money and coarse pursuits, who have made a hundred thousand francs
in the year before they open this book, had better close it again quickly, particularly if they are bankers, manufacturers, or respectable
industrialists … I take equal exception to the studious young man who … acquired a knowledge of modern Greek of which he is so proud that he is
already aspiring to Arabic … I am bound to displease women who … force attention by their perpetual affectedness … People of grave disposition,
who enjoy a reputation for unromantic wisdom …
In other words, those who prefer the ersatz to the real, those who would dissimulate
their true feelings: – in other words, the bourgeois.
There is a modernist sensibility to all this, is there not? – The restriction to a small
illuminated readership, the setting up of a “difficult” work such as his against the simple and trivial works of other writers, his (as we shall see)
unusual and unfashionable approach to his material, an unwillingness to pander to the public, a will instead to challenge the reader intellectually:
– though also a romantic insistence upon feeling in a work that is in other ways far from romantic in character.