Stendhal

Marie-Henri Beyle, better known by his pen name Stendhal was a French psychological novelist best known for “Le Rouge et le Noir” (The Red and the Black) and “La Chartreuse de Parme” (The Charterhouse of Parma”). He developed from Romanticism to Realism. He was born on 23rd January 1783 in Grenoble, France and died on 23rd March 1842, Paris, France aged 59.

Major Works

Histoire de la Peinture en Italie” (History of Painting in Italy) (1817)
De l’Amour” (On Love) (1822)
“Le Rouge et le Noir” (The Red and the Black) (1830)
“La Chartreuse de Parme” (The Charterhouse of Parma) (1839)

Biography Timeline

Marie-Henri Beyle, better known to the world under one of his many pseudonyms as Stendahl, was born on 23rd January 1783 in Grenoble, France. (He created the name from the German city of Stendal, birthplace of Johann Joachim Winckelmann a famous art historian of the day). His father Chérubin Beyle was a landowner and a barrister in Grenoble’s High Court of Justice and known for his reactionary views. Stendahl disliked him intensly. His mother was Henriette Gagnon, whom he loved and was Italian in origin. He was educated at the Ecole Centrale in Grenoble until 1799 where he was interested in literature mathematics.

1790: His mother dies in childbirth.

1799: He goes to Paris theoretically to prepare for the entrance examination for the Ecole Polytechnique but his secret ambition is to become a playwright. However, one of his relatives gets him a position as a Second Lieutenant in the French Army and he is stationed in Italy.

1802: He resigns from the army and moves back to Paris where he studies the philosophers Helvétius and Cabanis. He also enrols in a drama class still hoping to become a playwright but his endeavours come to nothing. He falls in love with the actress Mélanie Louason and follows her to Marseille.

1806: Pierre-Antoine, Count Daru is appointed intendant-general of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army and sends Stendahl as a military commissary to Brunswick in Germany. 

1807: He stays near Stendal, and falls in love with a woman called Wilhelmine, although he calls her Minette.

1808: He contracts syphilis in December and the barbaric cures he undergoes for the rest of his life give him much pain and anguish.

1810: He is named an auditor with the Conseil d’Etat on 3rd August and becomes part of the French administration.

1812: He is with Napoleon in Moscow and sees the city go up in flames and participates in the long winter retreat back to France. He becomes known for his clear headedness in difficult circumstances.

1813: He arrives back in Paris and helps organise the military defence of the province of Dauphiné.

1814: When the French empire falls, he decides to settle in Milan in Italy. He makes friends with Milanese liberals and patriots, reads the “Edinburgh Review” and studies music and art. 

1815: He publishes his first book “Vies de Haydn, de Mozart et de Métastase” (Lives of Haydn, Mozart and Metastasio).

1817: He publishes “Histoire de la Peinture en Italie” (History of Painting in Italy – the only book ever published under his own name) and the early tourist guide “Rome, Naples, et Florence” – under the pseudonym M. de Stendhal, Officier de CavalrieHe falls in love with but is rejected by Métilde Dembowski, Countess Dembowska.

1818: He completes his “A Life of Napoleon” but it is not published until 1929.

1821: He is forced to leave Milan because his liberal political beliefs and friendships are not appreciated by the new Austrian occupiers. He moves back to Paris where he experiences financial problems.

1822: His unsuccessful love affair with Méthilde Dembowski inspires him to write the autobiographical “De l’Amour” (On Love) which he claimed studied love dispassionately and objectively and uses a trip to Rome as an analogy of how love works.

1823: He publishes the first part of “Racine et Shakespeare” in which he praises Shakespeare as superior in psychological analysis to Racine. He also writes articles for several periodicals.

1824: He publishes “Vie de Rossini” (Life of Rossini).

1825: The second part of “Racine et Shakespéare” appears.

1827: He writes his first novel “Armance” which is not popular with his friends or the public. It concerns the sexual impotence of the male hero who eventualy commits suicide.

1829: He publishes “Promenades dans Rome” (Walks in Rome) and begins writing the early part of “Le Rouge et le Noir” (The Red and the Black).

1830: During the July Revolution in France the constitutional monarch King Louis-Phillipe takes the throne. 

1831: Stendhal is appointed by the new administration as the French consul to Trieste and Civtavecchia in the Papal States, Italy although he is not a popular choice with the Austrian Metternich. Although bored by the humdrum post he has time to visit Rome and discovers in the archives stories of crimes of passion and executions which inspires his book “Chroniques Italiennes” (Italian Chronicles). “The Red and the Black –Chronicle of 1830” is published and depicts the French social order under the Second Restoration between 1815 and 1830. Stendhal was an admirer of Napoleon and the novel has been seen as his tribute to the Emperor.

1835: He completes the novel “Lucien Leuwen” but it is not published until 1894. Other works around the time and also unpublished are “Souvenirs d’Egotisme” (Memoirs of an Egotist) and the “Vie de Henry Brulard” (The Life of Henry Brulard).

1836: He takes extended leave from his job as Consul and returns to Paris.

1837: He begins writing “Chroniques Italiennes” and the unfinished novel “The Pink and the Green”.

1839: He writes another biography “Vie de Napoléon” (Life of Napoleon) and another travelogue “Mémoires d’un Touriste”. (Remembrances of a Tourist). He returns to his Consular post in Italy. At the end of the year he completes in two months his major work “La Chartreuse de Parma” (The Charterhouse of Parma). It uses Renaissance chronicles and contemporary events such as Napoleon in Italy, the Battle of Waterloo and the Austrian occupation of Milan as a backdrop. A young aristocrat, Fabrice del Dongo, an admirer of Napoleon, goes to Paris to join the French army. He returns to Parma in Italy and joins the church and many affairs and events happen there ending in del Dongo’s death. He begins work on his last novel “Lamiel” but it too is never completed.

Stendahl died on 23rd March 1842 in Paris after suffering a stroke in the street whilst on another of his leaves of absence. He was buried in the Cimetiere de Montmartre in Paris with only three friends in attendance, including Prosper Merimee. During his lifetime he was more known for his travelogues and his fiction only became more widely read in the twentieth century. Friedrich Nietzsche was later to refer to him as “France’s last great psychologist” in his work “Beyond Good and Evil”.