Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Milan. City in northern Italy’s Lombardy region. Stendhal evokes the atmosphere of this region to explain Napoleon’s romantic impact on the novel’s main character, Fabrizio del Dongo. Napoleon entered the city on May 15, 1796, the head of a young army destined to change the face of Europe. It is this Napoleon that awakens Fabrizio’s ambitions to fight in what becomes Napoleon’s last famous battle at Waterloo two decades later. Milan also represents, in Stendhal’s ironic prose, a foil to the jaded sophistication of his French readers. In introducing his cast of passionate characters, Stendhal comments that in Milan, a “region quite remote from our own, a man may still be driven to despair by love.”


*Como. City in northwestern Italy not far from Milan. With its charming lake of the same name, it is one of the most beautiful sites in the country and in the novel is the home of the del Dongo family. Stendhal presents Como as the secluded, stifling setting in which the naïve Fabrizio grows up with visions of sharing in Napoleon’s glory.


*Waterloo. Belgian village south of Brussels, where Napoleon fought his last, losing battle in 1815. Stendhal effectively evokes the country atmosphere and the confusion of battle, including Fabrizio’s ludicrous attempts to join Napoleon’s forces. Traveling under false papers he is arrested as a spy. His incarceration is the first of several imprisonments that ultimately lead to his self-incarceration in the Charterhouse of Parma.


(The entire section is 658 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Alter, Robert, in collaboration with Carol Cosman. A Lion for Love: A Critical Biography of Stendhal. New York: Basic Books, 1979. Despite its relative brevity, this is the best biography in English. Alter calls The Charterhouse of Parma the novel that Stendhal “had been gathering resources all his life to write” and skillfully relates the circumstances of its composition. Notes and illustrations, no bibliography.

Gutwirth, Marcel. Stendhal. New York: Twayne, 1971. A very readable if somewhat dated study of the writer’s autobiographical and fictional works, developed in terms of several controlling images: “The Pistol Shot,” “Brief Candle,” and so on. Prefaced with a brief but useful chronology.

Talbot, Emile J. Stendhal Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1993. The best starting point for the beginning reader of Stendhal. Talbot profits from scholarship appearing since Gutwirth’s survey but downplays the autobiographical element in Stendhal’s fiction. Good annotated bibliography of secondary works.

Turnell, Martin. The Novel in France. New York: Vintage, 1958. A standard and highly acclaimed survey. Places Stendhal’s three major novels in a tradition running from the seventeenth century through the early twentieth century. Turnell praises The Charterhouse of Parma for its “extraordinary poise and maturity.”

Wood, Michael. Stendhal. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971. An accessible study of Stendhal’s major and some of his minor works. Wood is particularly good at identifying the many elements—personal, historical, social, and political—that contributed to the genesis of The Charterhouse of Parma.