A Lion for Love (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
Yet another study of Stendhal? Alter admits in his Preface that he is following in the “graceful” and “perceptive” critical tracks of Robert Martin Adams, Victor Brombert, Harry Levin, and Michael Wood, and the recent biographies by Joanna Richardson and Gita May. Then there is Henri Martineau’s Le Coeur de Stendhal in two volumes (1952-1953), the most authoritative biography to date. However, Alter shows himself a lion in braving the regiment of recent Beylistes: he considers Martineau’s interpretations “often debatable or deficient,” while the ladies Richardson and May both lack “a fresh or, indeed, a coherent, critical perception” of their subject.
Alter’s chief critical and biographical rival is, of course, Stendhal himself, since he was a perpetual autobiographer, whether writing fiction, letters, or diaries. Indeed, his overtly autobiographical works harmonize among themselves so as to narrate his life from birth to the year 1824. The Life of Henry Brulard (1835-1836, but not published until 1890), brazenly direct in its self-referential information, takes the reader through the first seventeen years of Stendhal’s life, ending with his arrival in Milan to join Napoleon’s army in 1800. The Private Diaries (or Journals) take him from 1801 through 1818. Souvenirs d’egotisme cover 1821 through 1824. And then there is the enormous correspondence, ten volumes of it in the definitive...
(The entire section is 2070 words.)
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