Stendhal Season: Armance

Stendhal’s novels can perhaps be divided into 3 categories, at least in the English-language world (based largely on how often they’ve been published in the last 50 years):

  • Novels you could go into most good bookshops and buy (The Red and The Black, The Charterhouse of Parma)
  • Novels you might have to look about a bit for (Love, The Life of Henri Brulard,  some of the Italian Chronicles)
  • Novels you’ve probably never come across (Armance, Lucien Leuwen, The Pink and The Green, the remainder of the Italian Chronicles, Lamiel)

Having recently finished Stendhal oh so fashionable part-history part-novel oft-footnoted work The Italian Chronicles (those few that made it into the NYRB edition at least), so now I’ve just read Armance (in a nice 50c American pulp fiction edition, complete with red-edged pages). – Oh, the plot? – It’s a love story: girl loves boy, boy loves girl; they are prevented from happiness by a contemptible French high society ripe for satire.

One thing I particularly enjoyed were the epigraphs Stendhal used under his chapter headings. Here are some of the translators notes (the translator being the famously wrong-titled C. K. Scott–Moncrieff):

  • Chapter 2 – “The first of these lines is taken from the Epitaph in Gray’s Elegy, in the notes to which it is not shewn as an “Imitation”. The ascription of the whole to Marlow (sic) is probably, therefore, one of Beyle’s fantasies.”
  • Chapter 4 – “This motto is printed in the French editions as prose. The last two lines are taken from The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene III … The ascription to Massinger need not be taken too seriously. Compare Scarlet and Black, chapter XLVI.”
  • Chapter 9 – “Beyle ascribes this motto, which he quotes in French to Burns, thinking possibly of various phrases in the lines To A Field Mouse. In Henri Brulard he again quotes the passage, as from Cymbeline [it is Cymbeline], but gives the speech to Imogen instead of Berlarius.”
  • Chapter 11 – “The first half-line, which is not in Troilus and Cressida, is perhaps a reminiscence of Othello: “Trifles light as air”.”
  • Chapter 18 – “Beyle quotes this motto in French, and attributes it to Schiller [it’s Pope].”
  • Chapter 19 – “This motto and that prefixed to Chapter XXII are quoted by Beyle in English, which makes it seem probably that by Deckar he meant the voluminous writer Thomas Dekker … but this quotation, which the French editors religiously print in three lines, imagining it to be a specimen of English poetry, bears the marks of Beyle’s composition.”
  • Chapter 21 – “This line, taken from the Aeneid (I, 207), is inadvertently ascribed by Beyle to Horace.”
  • Chapter 28 – “The last three words are added by Beyle. The source is cited in all the editions as King Henry III [it’s King Henry VIII].”

Hmm, misquoting sources – how very modern!

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4 thoughts on “Stendhal Season: Armance

  1. Not just “modern” – unless modern denotes an intellectual culture that surfaces many times in history.

    Montaigne was a cheerful (albeit not malicious), always-apposite-in-digression misunderquoter. An example from the selection of Essays that I have (Penguin; transl. J. M. Cohen (a big wheel in the Penguin Classics mechanism)), from On Experience:

    “[The case of the ‘naturally infirm’ mind of a scholastic commentator (eh-hm)] is much like that of Aesop’s dogs who, seeing something like a dead body floating in the sea, and being unable to get near it, set about drinking up the water in order to make a dry passage, and choked themselves.”

    The translator’s footnote reads:

    “This is not from Aesop, but is taken from Amyot’s translation of Plutarch’s Common Conceptions against the Stoics, XIX. But even so, Montaigne has made his own version of the story.”

    The scholastic compound conjunction but even so tells us – me anyway – that Cohen is in on the rich comedy of annotational correction of Montaigne’s disparagement of commentariosis. That semaphore, and this, from Cohen’s introduction:

    “Montaigne’s quotations are frequently inaccurate. Sometimes they have been deliberately distorted to suit the point they have to illustrate, but often they appear to have been set down from memory – and Montaigne admitted that his memory was bad!”

    (Not to short-circuit friendly disagreement, but people who aren’t charmed and made smarter by Montaigne’s “trials” (or “attempts”) are idiots.)

  2. By “modern”, I imagine I meant, an attitude which people like to believe has only been around in the last 100 years or so, denoting a new sophistication which the human race has achieved but which actually “denotes an intellectual culture that surfaces many times in history” or perhaps even is always present.

    The tenor of Scott-Moncrieff’s footnotes makes me feel he’s playing along too – I’m not sure I believe Stendhal ever “inadvertently” misquoted anything. As with what you say about Montaigne, he makes the quotation fit his sense.

    Whether Stendhal could be bothered / it was just a lapse in memory – again, I’m inclined to think he wasn’t, that it’s a game – after all, in the case of a lot of these, most of the quotation is verbatim – can we really remember texts as well as that (not these days, when we don’t learn anything by rote!), especially when we can’t then remember what works they’re from.

    Love, for instance, has an inordinate number of footnotes – pretty much on every page – which contain many extensive quotations: – my addition makes no claim that any of these (though I haven’t checked them all) are inaccurate.

  3. From On Love, one of my favorite sentences:

    I have a prodigious respect for good faith; I can see the point of it.

  4. Yes, there’s an awful lot of On Love I’m fond of. – I’ve also recently got a book by Ortega y Gasset, the first part of which is a critique of On Love. When I finally finish On Love, I shall get around to that too.

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