Stendhal’s Love – #2 Prefaces – Part Two

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.


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