Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490

Published posthumously, LUCIEN LEUWEN is a long unfinished work divided into two novels: THE GREEN HUNTSMAN and THE TELEGRAPH. In it, Stendhal gives a subtle, penetrating analysis, Freudian in tone, of a young commoner in the difficult days after the revolution of 1830. Lucien is considered an idealized portrait of Stendhal. The novel, though rewarding, is frustrating, for Stendhal never revised the manuscript; indeed, parts of the narrative were not completed. The grand passion of Lucien for Bathilde, for example, is not concluded; from his notes, it is known that Stendhal intended them to marry. Despite these imperfections, the novel is regarded in France as Stendhal’s third masterpiece.

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The novel is exceptionally long (though unfinished), exceptionally brilliant, and complex. It successfully integrates the life of an individual, for whom the novel is named, with the historical and institutional life of French society. Containing a vast panorama of major and minor characters, many of whom were modeled on the functionaries of Louis Philippe’s regime, the novel also offers penetrating psychological and social analysis. In a sense, LUCIEN LEUWEN resembles Stendhal’s other major works: a young man, unable to bear the hypocrisy of the society in which he finds himself, is forced to grow, rebel, and compromise all at the same time. LUCIEN LEUWEN is especially interesting because of the personality and situation of the major character and because of the setting into which he is born.

Lucien Leuwen is a decent fellow, with democratic ideals and a heart in the right place, who must either become dishonest or be wholly isolated. In the army he is forced to “think right” (that is, stop thinking and start cultivating the local aristocrats), and in the service of the Minister of the Interior, Lucien “plays the game.” Indeed, his father’s only worry is that Lucien will not be crooked enough for the life of politics. Lucien, however, proves himself capable of carrying out all sorts of dishonest political tricks. In one scene, the local population is so enraged at his spying and attempted subversion of their election that they throw mud in his face and cry that now “his soul is on his face.”

The government of Louis Philippe was run by the bankers; and the king himself—as well as his closest associates—was perpetually engaged in the most dishonest financial manipulations. It is this corruption, and not merely middle-class blandness, that suffused French society and French officialdom, which Stendhal exposes with utter ruthlessness. Lucien’s father, who is one of these bankers, offers his son opportunity and a position against which Lucien finally rebels. After the father died, and the second part of the novel was completed, Stendhal’s notes indicated that he would have had Lucien travel to Rome to be united with his first love; this third part, however, was never written. Completed or not, LUCIEN LEUWEN remains a superb portrait of personal rebellion, compromise, and sacrifice.

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