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Penguin Classics Charterhouse Of Parma [Paperback]

Stendhal , Margaret Shaw
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 1 1958 Penguin Classics
Richard Howard's exuberant rendition of Stendhal's great tale has caused a classic to be reborn for modern readers Stendhal narrates a young aristocrat's adventures in Napoleon's army and in the Court of Parma, illuminating in the process the whole cloth of European history. As Balzac wrote, "Never before have the hearts of princes, ministers, courtiers, and women been depicted like this...One sees perfection in every detail".With beautiful illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker.

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Officer, diplomat, spy, journalist, and intermittent genius, Marie Henri Beyle employed more than 200 aliases in the course of his crowded career. His most famous moniker, however, was Stendhal, which he affixed to his greatest work, The Charterhouse of Parma. The author spent a mere seven weeks cranking out this marvel in 1838, setting the fictional equivalent of a land-speed record. To be honest, there are occasional signs of haste, during which he clearly bypassed le mot juste in favor of narrative zing. So what? Stendhal at his sloppiest is still wittier, and wiser about human behavior, than just about any writer you could name. No wonder so meticulous a stylist as Paul Valéry was happy to forgive his sins against French grammar: "We should never be finished with Stendhal. I can think of no greater praise than that."

The plot of The Charterhouse of Parma suggests a run-of-the-mill potboiler, complete with court intrigue, military derring-do, and more romance than you can shake a saber at. But Stendhal had an amazing, pre-Freudian grasp of psychology (at least the Gallic variant). More than most of his contemporaries, he understood the incessant jostling of love, sex, fear, and ambition, not to mention our endless capacity for self-deception. No wonder his hero, Fabrizio de Dongo, seems to know everything and nothing about himself. Even under fire at the Battle of Waterloo, the young Fabrizio has a tendency to lose himself in Napoleonic reverie:

Suddenly everyone galloped off. A few moments later Fabrizio saw, twenty paces ahead, a ploughed field that seemed to be strangely in motion; the furrows were filled with water, and the wet ground that formed their crests was exploding into tiny black fragments flung three or four feet into the air. Fabrizio noticed this odd effect as he passed; then his mind returned to daydreams of the Marshal's glory. He heard a sharp cry beside him: two hussars had fallen, riddled by bullets; and when he turned to look at them, they were already twenty paces behind the escort.
The quote above, a famous one, captures something of Stendhal's headlong style. Until now, most English-speaking readers have experienced it via C.K. Scott-Moncrieff's superb 1925 translation. But now Richard Howard has modernized his predecessor's period touches, streamlined some of the fussier locutions, and generally given Stendhal his high-velocity due. The result is a timely version of a timeless masterpiece, which shouldn't need to be updated again until, oh, 2050. Crammed with life, lust, and verbal fireworks, The Charterhouse of Parma demonstrates the real truth of its creator's self-composed epitaph: "He lived. He wrote. He loved." --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The Charterhouse of Parma has never sparkled in English with such radiance as it does in Richard Howard's new translation."
--Edmund White

"[A] superb new translation."
--Bernard Knox, The New York Review of Books

"An epic tale of war, love, sex, politics, and action-packed narrative."
--The New Yorker

From the Trade Paperback edition. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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On 15 May 1796, General Bonaparte made his entry into Milan at the head of the youthful army which had just crossed the bridge at Lodi and let the world know that after all these centuries, Caesar and Alexander had a successor. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "But is this really a prison?" Aug. 3 2001
Whether it's Thomas Hardy, Tolstoy, or Dickens, I've never met a 19th century novel I didn't like. In his 1999 book, WHY READ THE CLASSICS?, Italo Calvino calls THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA "the best novel ever written," and Harold Bloom also praises it in his HOW TO READ AND WHY. Written in 52 days, THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA (1839) opens amidst the rumble of cannons on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, and then follows its young Italian protagonist, Fabrizio del Dongo, from one "nasty scrape" (p. 193) to the next. "A little drunk" (p. 46), we find our unlikely hero sleeping through the Battle of Waterloo. Later imprisoned for killing another character in a street fight, he exclaims, "I've never been so happy in my life! . . . Isn't it funny to discover that happiness was waiting for me in a prison?" (p. 327). It is in his prison cell, in the "extremely ugly" (p. 299) Farnese Tower of the fictional Citadel of Parma, that Fabrizio is transformed by love. THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA may be read as a historic novel, a picaresque adventure, a love story, or simply as "a great Italian novel." As translator Richard Howard tells us in the book's Afterward, it is "a miracle of gusto, brio, elan, verve, panache" (p. 503).
G. Merritt
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, but avoid Howard Aug. 1 2003
Hard to say whether Charterhouse or Red & Black is better; lately I lean to Red & Black (get Catherine Slater's Oxford translation; shun the new B. Raffel paraphrase). The fun of reading Stendhal, I think, is his narration; one briefly feels as clever, as observant, as clear-headed, as the narrator.
The Modern Library has apparently decided that, with so many good Stendhal translations out there (Slater; Mauldin's Charterhouse; the NEW Penguin R & B; Lowell Bair's Charterhouse), it has a duty to provide bad ones. Richard Howard's translation has errors that even my schoolboy French can pick up. The New Criterion (which may have its own bones to pick w/ Mr. Howard, true) listed a great many flaws in his command of the French. And he's tone deaf to Stendhal in many of my favorite passages (not as bad as the old Shaw Penguins, but bad enough). If you read Howard's Stendhal & think you don't like him, try a better translation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well Feb. 18 2004
I understand that Stendahl is the French equal of Alessandro Manzoni or Leo Tolstoy. Based on that alone, Hell yes you should read this book!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Passionate, original, transporting Feb. 14 2004
I read this novel after finishing The Red and the Black, which I thought was the far better novel of the two. The scenes in which Fabrizio joins Napoleon's army at Waterloo really come to life and shine in the narrative of Stendahl, as he had been a soldier in battle for Napoleon during his lifetime. Fabrizio really is a bit too much of a narcissist and after a while, despite his handsome youth and intellect, I found myself tiring of him. He really made a number of knuckleheaded moves with his career and women so much so that, at times, he seems to fall far too short of the heroic stature that I'm sure Stendahl intended for him. The women, whom he frequently spurned, seemed to me far superior characters in their nobility than Fabrizio. I did find shades of Lord Byron's "Prisoner of Chillon" in some aspects of the irony of his finding solace in his imprisonment. I kept hoping that the Duchess and he would become a permanent item and Stendahl kept me guessing on the plot twists. The novel was written in only about seven weeks, which is a fairly remarkable creative outpouring. Considering the big rush the writing is quite good but I wonder why he hastened the creative execution to such an extreme. Great writing usually just doesn't emerge in such a brief span and speed is not conducive to quality, as most of the hacks on bestseller lists in America conclusively prove. The Red and the Black is just so much more finished and impressive as a novel than Charterhouse, which struck me in places as contrived and unlikely and tried my willing suspension of disbelief to the point at which I found myself saying, "Come on, Fabrizio, grow up." Stendahl is a master of the epigram and there are plenty here to savor, moreso in the context of courtly life in Red and the Black, perhaps. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Wait Any Longer Jan. 4 2004
By Buce
I came late to Charterhouse of Parma. I read it once when I was younger (in Paris, where you think I might have caught the spark), but my mind was on other things and I finished it more out of duty than pleasure. Years later, I gave it a second shot, and I must say I'm glad I did: I suppose today I might rank it as my favorite novel.
I think what the reader needs - what I needed - was a feel for the context. Stendhal stands at the crossroads of so much that is interesting in the modern world. He's a Frenchman who is in love with Italy. He's the small town boy who yearns for Paris - but then is shocked to find it has no mountains. He's the soldier who rode with Napoleon - but the wrong way, having accompanied the great man on the retreat from Moscow. Most of all, he is the ultimate romantic and the ultimate anti-romantic-the great enthusiast with a deadly eye for the absurdity of his own enthusiasm. I think I needed to have some sense of all these dimensions before I could catch the ironies and cross-currents that give the book so much of its drive. But lately, I don't know how many times I've found myself reading some later novel or some bit of more recent history and hearing Stendhal's worldly chuckle at my shoulder. It's the mellow wisdom of a life not always well lived, but for that reason perhaps more tangy and flavorful than a duller counterpart.
One of the many charms of the experience to me is to reflect that Stendhal himself was - okay, say it, a loser. He reminds me a bit of the Fusco Brothers in the Sunday funnies: not fat, exactly, maybe a size 40 in a pair of size 38 pants, the guy who never quite gets the girl (don't believe all his stories).
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars FRENCH CLASSIC
The magic of this classic of French literature will follow you forever after reading Stendahl's work. He was a master of the tale and he was a master of the pen.
Published on Sept. 1 2002 by Boris Zubry
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary Avalanche
Stendhal's great novel follows the life of "our young hero" Fabrizio del Dongo (a Lombard nobleman) through the early 1800s and life in-between the various reactionary... Read more
Published on Aug. 27 2002 by "ateliermp"
1.0 out of 5 stars please shoot me
After reading The Red and the Black, also by Stendahl, I expected a fascinating read. Instead I'm resisting falling into a coma. Read more
Published on March 19 2002
1.0 out of 5 stars Zzzzzzzzzzzzz
I don't really know exactly why I was so bored by this novel. Perhaps it's because many of the themes and techniques appeared so familiar to me after having read "The Red and... Read more
Published on Sept. 2 2001 by MR G. Rodgers
5.0 out of 5 stars The Provisional Character
Fabrizio's dubious lineage is just a small seed of a hint as to the kind of life he will live for everything Fabrizio does has the distinction of being a dubious undertaking. Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2001 by Doug Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting Dissection of Reaction
This is an unconventional novel by the very unconventional Stendhal. Many have commented on the unusual structure of the narrative, the frequent and apparently random plot twists,... Read more
Published on May 29 2001 by R. Albin
3.0 out of 5 stars a hollow classic
A friend who is a French Lit prof recommended this book to me, and so I dutifully plowed thru it in the original. Read more
Published on April 12 2001 by Robert J. Crawford
5.0 out of 5 stars In a word, magnificent!
Okay, let's get the ugly truths out of the way first. The novel starts slow and almost has nothing to do with the rest of the book. Read more
Published on March 5 2001
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