Summer 1955 • Vol. XVII No. 3 NonfictionJuly 1, 1955 |

La Chartreuse de Parme: Ironical Ambiguity

Critics of Stendhal tend to agree that in his two chief novels he is protesting against a society which prevents his "justified" characters from being better than they are. It is true that he was a protestant in politics. He was no republican, although a liberal, and, as he insisted, a sincere one, he alone having, he claimed, "political virtue": Napoleon's generals sold themselves, the liberals sold themselves and Louis-Philippe was le plus fripon des Kings. But republics were a bore and "anti-imagination." Aristocratic in tastes, he was critical of the aristocracy as a class—in the Chartreuse he questions the assumption of the leisured class that it has a right to leisure. He was sentimentally drawn to the people and could not bear their sweaty night-caps. Even the famous cult of energy seems to be a protest against the tameness of contemporary manners. But it is arguable that in his novels he is not merely crying woe on an age which frustrated energy. He judges his time but

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