Sundays With Stendhal … Revived

‘What are you dreaming of, sir?’ Mathilde asked him.  There was a note of intimacy in her question, and she had come back running and was quite out of breath in her eagerness to be with him.  Julian was tired of self-suppression.  In a moment of pride, he told frankly what he was thinking.

The Red and the Black (C.K. Scott Moncrieff transl.), Book II, Chapter 40.

Long time VC readers might recall my ‘Sundays With Stendhal’ posts.  I’ve decided to try a return to them, though they might be somewhat irregular and I’ll almost certainly use passages that I also posted years ago.  I’ll also add quotations from other writers when the mood takes me, as well.  This isn’t an exercise in scholarship, so I’m not worried about taking quotations out of context, leaving aside the French unless I have a particular interest, using different translations, and similar liberties.  I am passionate about Stendhal – one of the happy few, etc. – having read and re-read The Red and the Black nearly every year since I was fourteen, when (a) I was madly in love with L. and (b) one of my older high school friends handed it to me, from pity, I think.  (He was also passionate about French literature, when not being passionate about his devotion to the Revolution, this being public high school in a college town in the early 1970s.)

Stendhal seems to have fallen out of the curriculum everywhere; even my French law students have never read anything by him and my American students have not so much as heard the name.  I asked a dear friend of mine about this several years back – a serious French intellectual, writer and editor in Paris – and he said, I know you consider yourself devoted to French literature, but who are your actual, favorite French writers?  Without hesitation, I said: Stendhal, Albert Camus, Blaise Cendrars, and Rene Char.  Once he stopped laughing (I exaggerate a bit in the re-telling) … he said, forgive me, but it’s just that while the Republique thanks you for your devotion to French arts and letters, you have managed to choose perhaps the least representative French writers of the past, oh, three hundred years.  (I was glad I did not add Raymond Aron to the list.)

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