He grew up in Grenoble hating his father and the Jesuit, Royalist atmosphere in his home, and he went to Paris at his earliest opportunity. There influential relatives obtained a place for him at the ministry of war. In 1800 he became a dragoon in Napoleon's army, and the invasion of Italy took him to Milan. By 1802 he was back in Paris, where he pursued the amorous adventures that continued to interest him all his life. He read widely and kept notes and journals, which have been published. He again served with Napoleon's army in the disastrous Russian campaign (1812). After Napoleon's fall in 1814, Stendhal went to Milan, remaining there until 1820. There he began his literary career.
In Vie de Haydn, de Mozart, et de Métastase (1814) and in Rome, Naples, et Florence en 1817 (1817), he borrowed facts freely from other writers, but the point of view and wit were his own. His books were better known in England than in France, and from c.1817 he wrote for British journals. In this period, when he was suffering from his most genuine and most unhappy love affair, he wrote De l'amour (1822), a psychological analysis of love that predates Freud. Stendhal's first novel, Armance (1827), was scorned by the critics.
In 1831 the first of his two great novels, Le Rouge et le Noir (tr. The Red and the Black), was published. The Red in the title symbolizes the army and liberalism, and the Black the reactionary clergy. It is, baldly, the story of a sensitive but calculating youth, Julien Sorel, who pursues his ambitions by seduction and is eventually guillotined for shooting his mistress. Its sympathetic and acute character analysis and its picture of the period make it one of the world's great novels.
After the accession (1830) of Louis Philippe, Stendhal was appointed consul at Trieste, but because Metternich objected to his books and liberal ideas, he was shifted to Civitavecchia in 1831. He wrote constantly there, although he did not publish; among the works of that period are Souvenirs d'égotisme and La Vie d'Henri Brulard, both autobiographical, and Lucien Leuwen, a novel.
During a three-year leave of absence (1836–39), which he spent in Paris or in traveling about France, he wrote what many consider his greatest novel, La Chartreuse de Parme (1839, tr. The Charterhouse of Parma). Its plot is from the Renaissance, but it is set in Italy of the 1830s. Its hero, Fabrizio del Dongo, like Julien Sorel, possesses a special egoism (termed Beylism by Stendhal) that derives its great energy from passion, has its own moral code, and consists of unswerving pursuit of happiness in the form of love or power. Stendhal returned to Paris a few months before he died. Nearly 50 years after his death, his unprinted works were discovered and published.
See translations of his autobiographical works, The Life of Henri Brulard (1939), Memoirs of Egotism (1949), and The Private Diaries of Stendhal (1954); biography by J. Keates (1997).
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