23 March 1842, the French writer Marie-Henri Beyle, better known as “Stendhal” died at the age of 59 in Paris.
“In our calling, we have to choose; we must make our fortune either in this world or in the next, there is no middle way.“ (Stendhal “Le Rouge et le Noir“)
|A portrait of Stendhal by the French painter Louis Ducis (1775 – 1847) |
from 1835 Fonds Bucci, Bibliothèque Sormani, Milan.
The thought suggests itself every now and then that it was the prerequisite for being an artist of class during the 19th century, one had to suffer from a venereal disease at the very least. Henry Beyle contracted the great-pox at the age of 18 during Napoleon’s campaign in Italy where he served as a second lieutenant in a dragoon regiment, and while he had to quit active service in 1802, Henry had at least the opportunity to fall in love with Italian music, art and literature in and around Milan. He joined the Grande Armée again five years later as war commissar, served in Napoleon’s German satellite states, Russia and, again, in Italy and his admiration for the German art historian Winckelmann, born in Stendal in Saxony-Anhalt, one of Henry’s operating sites in 1808, made him choose the nom de plume: Stendhal when he began writing in earnest in hid mid-30s since he had to. The civil administration of France’s restoration period had no place for him anymore.
While the Romantic Movement, by and large, indulged in the description of touchy-feely conditions, Stendhal, though far from being able to disenthrall himself from the prevalent maudlin of his age completely, found his focus in acute psychological observations and depictions of his characters, especially his female cast, that made them appear simply alive along the lines of the protagonists’ coming to naught in civil society. His narratives often anticipate and outrank the later works of literary realism and, as usually, his merits, ahead of the times, were recognised by few contemporaries. Stendhal dictated world literature like “La Chartreuse de Parme” because he couldn’t hold his pen steady anymore, rather more from the coeval treatments than from the syphilis itself, the “Charterhouse” became the only success during his life and times, while artists of the late 19th and 20th century again and again recurred on Stendhal’s works and he posthumously engages a devoted audience from all across the world.
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