The Charterhouse of Parma

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The book opens with the entry of Napoleon’s victorious troops into Milan in 1796. One of them, a handsome lieutenant, wins the heart of the married Marchesa del Longo. Fabrizio is the offspring from their brief affair and becomes the romantic leading man of the novel. At seventeen he runs off to France and manages to be blurredly present at the Battle of Waterloo.

Fabrizio soon returns to Parma and the fond protection of his brilliant aunt, the spectacularly operatic Duchess Gina Sanseverina. Through much of the novel Fabrizio is little more than a chivalrous, dazzlingly attractive juvenile, living the customary aristocratic life of gallantry and sexual dalliance, playing the roles of young man-about-court and fashionable cleric. Maturation arrives for him when, through complex twists in the state’s affairs, he finds himself imprisoned in its great tower only to fall in love with the jailer’s daughter, Clelia.

Stendhal laces the novel with ironies: Not only is Fabrizio happiest when captive, but his aunt, hopelessly in love with him, insists on plotting his escape and scorning her devoted companion, Mosca, who has repeatedly endangered not only his career but also his life in her and Fabrizio’s behalf. Discovering that Fabrizio has sighs only for Clelia, Gina nonetheless rescues him from a second imprisonment, buying his freedom in a wretched sexual bargain with the despot Ranuccio-Ernesto V. She then accepts the permanent frustration...

(The entire section is 501 words.)