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!