The Red and The Black

By Stendhal


Stendhal, one of the great nineteenth century French novelists, was born Marie-Henri Beyle in Grenoble in 1783. He moved to Paris in 1799, the day after Napoleon's coup of 18 Brumaire (10 November), where he worked for the Ministry of War. He travelled to Italy in 1800 as a cavalry officer with Napoleon's army; during this period he developed an enduring love of Italy, its people and culture. He returned to Paris in 1802 with the intention of becoming a playwright. Between 1806 and 1814 he pursued his career in Napoleon's administration; after witnessing the burning of Moscow in 1812 his attitude towards the Empire became very ambivalent. These feelings are evident in many of his works, not least The Red and the Black; Stendhal certainly did not share his character Julien's undying devotion to the Empire. Following Napoleon's exile in 1814, Stendhal left France for Milan, where he remained until 1821. His first published works were biographies of Haydn and Mozart, a History of Painting in Italy and Rome, Naples and Florence in 1817 (both published in 1817). The Red and the Black, an engrossing tale of love and ambition published in Paris in 1830, is Stendhal's best-known work but many of its themes had been explored previously, most notably in On Love (1821), a rationalistic analysis of the nature of love inspired by his great love, Mathilde Viscontini Dembowski (Métilde) whom he met in 1818. His first novel, Armance, was published in 1827 and he also wrote celebrated critical works on Racine, Shakespeare and the composer Rossini during this period. After the revolution of July 1830 he returned to Citavecchia in Italy, where he largely remained until a stroke in 1841. Other novels published after 1830 include The Charterhouse of Parma (1839), the autobiographical Life of Henry Brulard (begun 1835) and the unfinished Lucien Leuwen (begun 1834), an acute portrait of life in Orleanist France. Each could be termed a 'Bildungsroman' - the story of a young man making his way in the world. All of his works also reflect his philosophical outlook: Stendhal espoused liberal-republican politics and was heavily influenced by the ideas of the philosophers of the Enlightenment and their successors, the 'Ideologists', who sought to provide a rational explanation for all the workings of the mind. An enormously talented writer, Stendhal straddled genres, periods (the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Realism) and countries. He died of a second stroke in Paris in 1842.