Saturday, January 23, 2010

Le Rouge et le Noir

Back on to the right track today with the fellow above, our 151st hero of the day. His name is Marie-Henri Beyle, but he is much more famous under his pen name of Stendhal. He was born this day 1783, in Grenoble, France. He is another of my sad hero bunch that suffered an unhappy childhood, bored with life in the provinces of France, and disliking his unimaginative father. His mother died when he was a young lad, and his education was put into the hands of a pious aunt and a Jesuit priest, both of whom he detested. At the tender age of 16, he moved to Pairs to pursue a career as a playwright. However, history intervened, and your Henri joined the French army in 1800, and became a lieutenant in the dragoons. He saw action in Italy, Germany, and Russia. In 1814, he was placed on half-pay and moved to Italy. There he experienced such an overwhelming physical reaction to the art and beauty of the country that a syndrome was named after him. The Stendhal Syndrome is the psychosomatic reaction to an overdose of beautiful art that can lead to confusion and hallucinations. He was forced to move back to Paris in 1823, and seven years later the book for which I hold him in hero status appeared. "The Red and the Black" is a lovely book, and its hero/villain is a character that both repulses, and attracts. Stendhal's use of irony, and his ability to tell a good story are amazing, and it is a book well worth reading. He was a bit of a dandy about Paris, and had a few romantic trysts worthy of mention, and even wrote fairly sympathetic female characters. He is mentioned favourably by Simone de Beauvoir in her book "The Second Sex." In one of those romantic trysts he managed to contract syphilis, and suffered greatly from it during his later years. He dropped dead from apoplexy on the streets of Paris in 1842 at the age of 59. So, for writing that one (and a couple of others) fine, psychological novel, that I need to go back and reread, Marie-Henri Beyle (January 23rd, 1783- March 23rd, 1842, at the age of 59), you are my hero of the day.

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