Marie-Henri Beyle Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Stendhal’s experience of life was as rich and as varied as the range of his writings might suggest. Born Marie-Henri Beyle in Grenoble—a city that he detested all of his life as the very symbol of small-minded provinciality—on January 23, 1783, he lost his mother, Henriette Gagnon, before he was seven, a traumatic experience that left him with a classic Oedipus complex, adoring her memory and everything connected with her and loathing his father, Chérubin Beyle, and everything connected with him. The most abominated of the representatives of his father was a Jesuit priest, the Abbé Raillane, who became his tutor; never, in a single page of his subsequent writings, does Stendhal mention Jesuits without irony and contempt.

No part of Stendhal’s writing is wholly separable from his biography. He lived through so many events that, by the time he became a novelist, “history,” for him, meant that which he himself had experienced. He was six years old when the French Revolution broke out and eleven when the Terror struck Grenoble; during the latter, he enjoyed himself thoroughly playing cops and robbers and making a dangerous nuisance of himself to his father and to the rest of his family. In spite of everything, however, he received an excellent nonclassical education at the newly established École Centrale at Grenoble, concentrating on modern subjects, on art, and on mathematics, and in November, 1799, he set off for Paris to follow courses at the École Polytechnique, intending to qualify as a military engineer.

This early fascination—on one hand, with the precision of mathematics, and on the other, with the positive aggressivity of military science—was to endure all of his life; it is ironic, therefore, to discover that he never so much as set foot within the walls of the École Polytechnique. Instead, no sooner had he arrived in Paris than he discovered in himself a new ambition: that of becoming a dramatist, “a new Molière”—an extraordinary aberration that was to preoccupy him fruitlessly for the better part of twenty years. On top of this first wrong turn came a second: Alone in his student lodgings, freezing with cold in the depths of a Parisian winter, he developed pleurisy, with complications. Short of a miracle, it would be the end of Marie-Henri Beyle.

The miracle duly occurred. On the day before Stendhal arrived in Paris, November 10, 1799, Napoleon had seized power. Among Napoleon’s ablest supporters and administrators—quickly rising to a position of enormous influence as director of the army’s Ministry of Supply—was Pierre Daru, a distant cousin of Stendhal’s father. The Daru family rescued their seventeen-year-old provincial relative in his distress, and when he had recovered, Pierre Daru found him a job in his own office. Stendhal was so ignorant of letters in that period that the very first time Daru dictated a memorandum to him, he misspelled the word cela as cella. Thirty years later, Julien Sorel would do the same thing in The Red and the Black.

At the beginning of May, 1800, Napoleon opened his second campaign against the Austrians in northern Italy by taking his army over the Saint-Bernard Pass and descending out of the blue onto the plain of Lombardy to beat the enemy at Marengo. Pierre Daru invited his young cousin to participate in the march, and Stendhal accepted with enthusiasm; thus, still in civilian clothes, and decidedly ill-balanced on an awkward “Swiss” horse (falling off horses is a chronic occupational hazard for the Stendhalian hero), Stendhal followed in the baggage train. On May 30, he came under fire for the first time; two days later, having a free evening in the little township of Ivrea, he paid for a seat to hear a third-rate opera company perform its uninspired version of Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto (1792; The Secret Marriage). This banal experience was a quasi-mystical revelation that changed Stendhal’s life. From that moment on, not France but Italy—above all, Milan—was to be his spiritual home; Marie-Henri Beyle had embarked on the long process of his transformation into the creator of The Charterhouse of Parma. In his will, he ordained that his tombstone should bear the inscription, “Arrigo Beyle, Milanese.” This stone may still be seen at the Cimetière Montmartre in Paris.

For the next thirty years,...

(The entire section is 1803 words.)

Marie-Henri Beyle Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
0111201670-Stendhal.jpg Stendhal (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Stendhal (stehn-DAHL) is the most widely recognized pseudonym of Marie-Henri Beyle. He was born in Grenoble, a provincial city in the southeast of France, on January 23, 1783. He was alive during the time of the great upheaval in French and European society brought about, in the first place, by the French Revolution and subsequently by the rise and fall of Napoleon I. Stendhal had intimate experience with the latter phenomenon.

Grenoble was not a place where Stendhal felt at home. He had little time for its narrow outlook in matters of politics and religion, and its atmosphere was out of touch with the burgeoning spirit of liberty of the author’s boyhood. Much of what Stendhal came to oppose in human affairs and behavior he initially found in his father, with whom he was severely in conflict. This antagonism was made worse by, or perhaps had its source in, the death of the novelist’s mother when he was seven. In his candid and innovative, though unfinished, autobiography, Vie de Henri Brulard (wr. 1835-1836, pb. 1890; The Life of Henry Brulard, 1925), he details with almost embarrassing intimacy his love for his mother. This autobiography’s title draws attention to Stendhal’s love of pseudonyms. He is thought to have used more than two hundred pseudonyms.

In 1799, having completed his education at Grenoble, Stendhal went to Paris and enrolled in the École Polytechnique, intending to study mathematics. The attractions of the capital, however, soon militated against study, and by 1800 he had secured a commission in Napoleon’s army. His duties took him to Milan, where he began a lifelong love affair with Italy. One of the four Italian words inscribed on his tomb is “Milanese,” and it was in his adopted native city, finally free of the constraints of Grenoble, that he entered into the first of many ardent and arduous emotional liaisons.

His first visit to Milan lasted until 1802. In that year, he resigned his army commission and returned to...

(The entire section is 819 words.)

Marie-Henri Beyle Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Stendhal (stehn-dahl), the most “unromantic” figure of France’s Romantic period (1830-1848), ranks with Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Émile Zola as one of the greatest French novelists of the nineteenth century. He was born Marie-Henri Beyle in Grenoble, France, on January 23, 1783. Always of an independent nature, he left his birthplace at an early age to seek his fortune in Paris. Despite ambitions as a playwright, Stendhal obtained a position in the Ministry of War and, in 1800, became a dragoon in the army of Napoleon. As an aide-de-camp and later an imperial commissioner, he accompanied the army in the Italian, Prussian, and Russian campaigns, serving with distinction until the fall of Napoleon in 1814. Still a young man, he spent the next seven years in Milan, scene of The Charterhouse of Parma, one of his two masterpieces. The rest of his life was spent as an independent and stubborn consular officer of France, mainly in Civitavecchia. Tempestuous, and usually disastrous, love affairs occupied a considerable amount of his time, and some of the events connected with these are to be found in his writings. He died in Paris on March 23, 1842.{$S[A]Beyle, Marie-Henri;Stendhal}

Stendhal’s writing career began in 1814 in Milan. There he produced two studies, The Lives of Haydn and Mozart, with Observations on Métastase and Rome, Naples, and Florence, in 1817. He also contributed several critical essays to British literary journals during this period, and his name was better known in England then than it was in France. Stendhal’s first novel, Armance, appeared in 1827. Five years earlier, he had written a searching study of one of his own love affairs titled Maxims of Love...

(The entire section is 724 words.)