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Stendhal

julien mathilde set priest

(French, 1783–1842)

Stendhal, the pseudonym of Henri Beyle, is known for two long novels, the first of which is Scarlet and Black (1830). This is set during the Restoration in France, when suspicion and intrigue were widespread and people were seeking a satisfactory replacement for the monarchy. The narrative follows the fortunes of Julien Sorel, a carpenter's son who becomes tutor to the local mayor's children. He becomes entangled in a banal affair with the mayor's wife. Stendhal's tone is satirical, disgusted with ‘polite’ society. He explores minutely the contradictions making up human nature. Julien sets his will above his natural feeling, but his mistress allows her emotions to rule her behaviour. Julien suffers from inverted snobbery: ever suspecting that those with money despise him, he is keen to prove himself cleverer than they. When he is sent away to the seminary to train as a priest, his cleverness becomes a handicap and he envies the peasants. Julien frequently asks himself, even after love-making, ‘Have I played my part well?’ and the author comments: ‘our hero fell short of daring to be sincere.’ A new job takes him to Paris, fashionable society, and a new mistress, Mathilde, but his past misdeeds will not be buried. Typical of Stendhal's perception is that characters often experience two opposing emotions at once. Mathilde feels both anger and attraction towards Julien, for instance.

The other great book is The Charterhouse of Parma (1839), set in Italy, beginning at the time of Napoleon, in whose army Stendhal had fought and who, along with Lord Byron, was the writer's hero. His protagonist at the provincial court is the son of a soldier at the battle of Waterloo, Fabrizio, who becomes both priest and lover.

Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola.

See ROMANCE  FS

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