(Pseudonym of Marie-Henri Beyle) French short story writer, novelist, travel writer, critic, and biographer.
One of the most highly regarded French authors of the nineteenth century, Stendhal achieved his lasting reputation mainly on the strength of his two major novels, Le rouge et le noir (1830; The Red and the Black) and La chartreuse de Parme (1839; The Charterhouse of Parma). Like other writers of the Romantic era, he celebrated extreme emotional states and actions, coining the term "Beylisme" to describe the passionate pursuit of self-fullfilment that was his personal goal. Unlike other Romantics, however, he wrote in a straightforward, realistic manner, critically examining the social climate and manners of his time.
Stendhal adored his mother, who died when he was seven. However, he despised both his lawyer father and his native provincial town of Grenoble, and escaped as soon as he could under the pretense of attending a school in Paris that he never actually enrolled in. Earning his living as a civil servant and military bureaucrat, he cultivated friends among the literary salon socialites of Paris, and served as a supply officer with Napoleon's army. In Milan, where he was stationed for several years, he became a heartfelt devotee of Italian art and culture. For the rest of his life he divided his time between Paris and Italy, devoting himself to the two major interests of his life, pursuing romantic adventures with women and writing.
Major Works of Short Fiction
As a young, aspiring writer, Stendhal failed in his ambition to become a playwright specializing in comedy, but found some success as a critic and travel writer. In middle age he devoted himself increasingly to fiction. Beginning with the unsuccessful novella Armance (1827), a study of a young man driven to suicide by sexual impotence, he went on to create the novels that critics regard as his most significant works, The Red and the Black, The Charter-house of Parma and the unfinished Lucien Leuwen. He also wrote a small number of short stories. These include "Mina de Vanghel," about the tragic romantic affairs of a German heiress, which was later reworked into the novella Le rose et le vert (1837; The Pink and the Green), and the handful of tales that were later collected under the title Chroniques italiennes (1855; Italian Chronicles). These Italian stories, including "The Cenci," "Vittorio Accoramboni," and the novella-length "Abbesse de Castro," were for the most part adaptations of old manuscripts dating from the Renaissance that Stendhal had collected while living in Italy. Dealing with forbidden sexual desires and gruesome murders, they reflect Stendhal's fascination with the sort of passionate Romantic experience he felt could be found in Italy but not in the rational civilization of France.
For the most part, Stendhal's short fiction has been regarded as secondary to his more accomplished full-length novels and nonfiction writings. However, scholars have found value in studying these shorter pieces as reflections of his developing skills as a storyteller, finding in them themes that would take shape in his more important works. Particularly interesting to contemporary critics is Armance, its depiction of a psychosexually tormented hero inviting a wide range of interpretations.