Study Guide

The Charterhouse of Parma

by Marie-Henri Beyle

The Charterhouse of Parma Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Stendhal’s second great novel, The Charterhouse of Parma, was first published in Paris in 1839 and had to wait more than fifty years before appearing in an English translation in 1895. Like The Red and the Black, its vivid characterizations, intriguing plot, and ironical style immediately confirmed its status as one of the major achievements of the nineteenth century novel.

Almost ten years separate the original publication of The Charterhouse of Parma from The Red and the Black. The interval did not, however, produce a change in Stendhal’s fictional themes or methods. Once again, the protagonist is a young man, and the environment in which he comes face to face with the world and his situation and destiny in it is one of political intrigue. Again, the protagonist’s fate seems to be decided by his emotional nature, and the expression of that nature is subject to ruinous social manipulation. The larger backdrop to the novel’s plot is the Napoleonic era. Yet it is used to illuminate the character of the protagonist, Fabrizzio del Dongo, and to prepare the reader for the struggle for autonomy and individuality that Fabrizzio must undergo. As in The Red and the Black, this struggle constitutes the bulk of the novel.

What might be referred to as the Fabrizzio narrative in The Charterhouse of Parma opens with a series of his misadventures in pursuit of military glory. The presentation of an ignorant, inexperienced, confused, but spirited Fabrizzio at the battle of...

(The entire section is 633 words.)

The Charterhouse of Parma Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Early in the nineteenth century, Fabrizio, son of the marchese del Dongo, grows up at his father’s magnificent villa at Grianta on Lake Como. His father is a miserly fanatic who hates Napoleon and the French; his mother is a long-suffering creature cowed by her domineering husband. In his boyhood, Fabrizio is happiest when he leaves Grianta and visits his aunt, Gina Pietranera, at her home in Milan. Gina looks upon her handsome nephew as if he were her son.

When he is nearly seventeen years old, Fabrizio determines to join Napoleon. Both his aunt and his mother are shocked, but the boy stands firm. Fabrizio’s father is too stingy to allow Fabrizio’s mother or his aunt to give Fabrizio any money for his journey, but Gina sews some small diamonds in his coat. Under a false passport, Fabrizio makes his way to Paris as a seller of astrological instruments.

Following one of Napoleon’s battalions out of Paris, Fabrizio is arrested and thrown into jail as a spy. His enthusiastic admiration for the emperor and his bad French are marks against him. Released from jail by the kindhearted wife of the turnkey, Fabrizio presses on, anxious to get into the fighting. Mounted on a horse he buys from a good-natured camp follower, he rides by accident into a group of hussars around Marshall Ney at the Battle of Waterloo. When a general’s horse is shot, the hussars lift Fabrizio from the saddle, and the general commandeers his horse. Afoot, Fabrizio falls in with a band of French infantrymen and, in the retreat from Waterloo, kills a Prussian officer. Happy at being a real soldier, he throws down his gun and escapes.

Meanwhile, at home, Gina succumbs to the romantic advances of Count Mosca, prime minister of Parma. They make a convenient arrangement. Old Duke Sanseverina badly wants a diplomatic post. In return for Mosca’s favor in giving him the post, he agrees to marry Gina and set her up as the duchess of Sanseverina. Then the duke leaves the country for good, and Mosca becomes Gina’s accepted lover. It is a good thing for Fabrizio that his aunt has some influence. When he returns to Grianta, the gendarmes come to arrest him on a false passport charge. He is taken to Milan in his aunt’s carriage. On the way, the party passes an older man and his younger daughter, also arrested but condemned to walk. Graciously Gina and Fabrizio take General Conti and his...

(The entire section is 975 words.)