- Hardcover: 528 pages
- Publisher: Modern Library; New edition edition (Feb. 9 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679602453
- ISBN-13: 978-0679602453
- Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.7 x 21.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 590 g
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,204,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Charterhouse of Parma Hardcover – Feb 9 1999
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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
"The Charterhouse of Parma has never sparkled in English with such radiance as it does in Richard Howard's new translation."
"[A] superb new translation."
--Bernard Knox, The New York Review of Books
"An epic tale of war, love, sex, politics, and religion...an action-packed narrative."
--The New Yorker
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
The main character is a callow Italian bastard-aristrocrat who embarks on a series of catastrophic misadventures only to end up as a pious preacher. He is mediocre, boring, and unbelievable, particularly in his choices of love. However, the wider tableau that Stendhal paints is far more interesting: you see the Napoleonic dream ideal and what it did in conquered areas, you learn how a whily courtesan manages a horrible prince, and see alternatives to the American-money oriented society in 19C Italy. That is where the real story was for me, rather than in the central character: he is a kind of vacuum that gets you into fascinating places, from the battle of Waterloo to the fictional prison tower of Parma.
It is not Stendhal's best, but you may enjoy it.