Stendhal: Prototypical Authentic

My recent readings of Sartre and Beauvoir provided the impetus to read Stendhal. Both considered Stendhal a favourite writer.

I’m currently relishing The Charterhouse of Parma; strong characters and such pace, though I can understand Nabokov’s assertion that Stendhal never wrote a great sentence. The man can tell a story but, in my translation, is patently not a stylist.

I’m also reading, as is my inclination, around Stendhal, and fascinated by the argument that Stendhal was a prototypical Sartrean hero of authenticity. Stendhal, Henri Beyle originally, was much preoccupied with the problem of self, summed up by four personal maxims:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Be yourself
  3. Shape yourself
  4. Hide yourself
Stendhal’s goal was to become natural (whatever that means). After failing to live up to these maxims, Stendhal turned, in the second half of his life, to fiction as a way of realising his goal through his characters.
Living up to his fourth maxim, Stendhal used over a hundred pseudonyms. His autobiographical works are Memoirs of an Egotist, his Private Diaries and The Life of Henry Brulard.

7 thoughts on “Stendhal: Prototypical Authentic

  1. >Beauvoir is making me curious about Stendhal too. I own a Norton copy of Red and Black in English which I suppose I should check out before rushing out and buying his work in French."Becoming natural" is indeed a vague and probably elusive goal.

  2. >I haven't read enough about Stendhal's attempt to conquer self, but in some ways he was trying to live like an existentialist, and would have been delighted with Sartre's ideas of authenticity and bad faith.

  3. >Kevin: Each underpinned the constant theme of 'Be Natural,' but in slightly different ways. Being natural entails not giving the impression of trying to make an impression.The 'hide yourself' maxim is particularly interesting, and yields multiple interpretations, foremost being Stendhal's belief that the vast majority of people are self-obsessed and pompous. What he tried to hide was his belief that people are such that he must hide this knowledge from them.

  4. >I've only read The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma, and now realise that this is effectively nothing vis-à-vis the fascinating take on self that you point to in his maxims: must seek out those last 3 books referred to in your post.

  5. >My comment above, Jen, could not be further from the truth. I've been reading my The Second Sex, and there was much that Beauvoir found inspiring in his fiction, notably his treatment of women characters.

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