If The Charterhouse of Parma (1859) is not the greatest work in that great body of literature which is the French realistic novel of the nineteenth century—and more than one good critic has thought it so—it is surely the most brilliant. According to Erich Auerbach, Stendhal founded modern literary realism, which portrayed the nineteenth- century world in light of a new historical awareness of an all-embracing political, social, and economic reality. But the Charterhouse also goes back to the sixteenth century in finding the germ of its story of love (love inflected marvelously in a variety of ways) and intrigue in an old Italian manuscript. It goes back to the eighteenth century, too, in its principality of Parma, an anachronistic parochial autocracy moldering stupidly in the nineteenth-century present. Its stupidities, which Stendhal treats with an urbane, amused irony that nevertheless has lively indignation behind it, are the...

 
Popular Right Now