The Charterhouse of Parma

by Marie-Henri Beyle

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Many of the quotes from Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma relate to the nobleman Fabrice del Dongo's pursuit of happiness and adventure, which starts at his family castle at Lake Como and ends at the Charterhouse of Parma.

As a young man he is seen as

unusual, witty, and very serious: a handsome boy who did not in the least disgrace the drawing-room of a lady of fashion, but also as ignorant as you please and barely able to write.

Fabrice's aunt and benefactress Gina Pietranera tells him

You will never appeal to men, you have too much passion in you for those with prosaic souls.

And she is right. Fabrice rejects the French and Austrian take on life, who see it as

my job to take take everything seriously.

Instead, he takes the Italian view:

Life races by, so do not be so hard to please about any happiness that lies within your grasp: savour it without delay.

Fabrice's romantic view on life takes him to France, where he is mistaken as a spy, escapes from prison, and experiences the Battle or Waterloo. He then goes to Naples, where he has many lovers, and eventually Parma, where he is unfortunately imprisoned for murder.

At one point, the narrator has to apologize for inserting too much political emphasis into the story:

Politics in a literary work, is like a pistol shot in the middle of a concert; something loud and out of place to which we are none the less compelled to pay attention.

Finally, Fabrice chooses to become a priest at the Charterhouse of Parma, becoming hugely popular in the process:

He made up his mind to preach, and his success, for which his emaciated figure and threadbare habit prepared the way, was without precedent. People were conscious of an aura of intense sadness in his sermons which, together with his charming face and the reports of the high favour he enjoyed at court, won him every female heart.

He also becomes a figure of gossip. The ladies dream up a story about his having been one of the bravest captains in Napoleon's army. Soon this absurd fact is considered indisputable.

Nevertheless, Fabrice is not entirely happy with how his life has turned out:

Because of the that vow which I respect, but which nevertheless makes my life miserable because you will not see me by day. . . . I am forced to live alone all the time, without any distraction other than work; and often there is not even enough of that.

As the narrator states towards the end,

Fabrice was too intelligent not to feel that he had a great deal to atone for.

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