The Charterhouse of Parma Analysis
by Marie-Henri Beyle

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The Charterhouse of Parma Analysis

Fabrizio del Dongo is a young man who grows up on Lake Como in Italy and whose father is domineering and begrudging. Fabrizio has aspirations to join the French army, despite his family’s protests and his poor French. In a series of fluke events (including the use of false identity papers), he ends up routing a unit of Prussian soldiers after killing one in the historic Battle of Waterloo.

He is largely supported by his aunt, Gina, who comes to his aid on several occasions, including by rescuing him when he is charged with using a false passport and later, when he is imprisoned in Parma in the Farnese Tower. Fabrizio has several lovers throughout the course of the novel, including an actress, as well as the daughter of his former jailer, Clelia, who later bears his child.
The novel is a Bildungsroman, as it depicts Fabrizio’s development and life’s journey: first as he becomes a soldier, then a bishop, and eventually a retiree in the Chartreuse of Parma. He is something of a tragic figure, as he appears unfulfilled, if ostensibly successful (as a soldier with beginner’s luck and later as a bishop whose sermons are popular). He survives his lover, Clelia, as well as their child. The novel is also a commentary on the court of Parma, which is viewed primarily through his aunt Gina’s time spent there.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Milan

*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

*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

*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.

*Parma

*Parma. Northern Italian city south of the River Po that serves as the site of the novel’s central action. Here Fabrizio, under suspicion by the prince and the royalists because of his Napoleonic adventures, wins the favor of the clergy and becomes a controversial figure emblematic of the city’s factionalism. Dominating the city is the despotic prince, who has ambitions to become the constitutional monarch of Italy. Indeed, it is only his ambition that prevents the prince from summarily having Fabrizio executed for killing (in self-defense) a rival for the love of an actress. Fabrizio is a prisoner in the Farnese Tower, the prison which is part of the city’s citadel—a defensive fortress that is mentioned frequently in the novel. Like Parma itself, the citadel is a center of intrigue, where Fabrizio must take care that he is not poisoned by his jailers, and where he survives because he is able to bribe them.

Parma’s combination of corruption and thuggery makes the simple, passionate Fabrizio an endearing figure to the public even when they feel he is guilty of murder. However, the prison also becomes a metaphor for his...

(The entire section is 1,133 words.)