French Literature Of The 19th Century:
Glance At The Eighteenth Century
Madame De Stael
Classicism And Romanticism
Read More Articles About: French Literature Of The 19th Century
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Henri Beyle (1783-1842), who used the pen-name Stendhal, was a prolific writer of novels, remarkable for depth and a peculiar power of analysis. Though not widely known, he is considered by the foremost French critics to be not simply an able delineator of human passions, but to be the precursor of the psychological novelists of recent times. He practically anticipated both the coming Romanticism and the later realism. He told Balzac, in 1840, that he fancied he "might meet with some success toward 1880." Born in 1783, he served under Napoleon, and in his hatred of the Restoration, betook himself to more congenial Italy. Its music, pictures and sculptures are worked into his early romances. After-ward a bitter philosophy is infused into his profoundly intellectual stories, and spoils their effect. Beyle wrote much miscellaneous biography and criticism. His aim in all his writings was to acquaint the nations with those literary works which yield the highest degree of pleasure. He had written first as an artist, but he afterward became a psychologist. His best novels are "Le Rouge et Noir" (The Red and Black) (1830) and "La Chartreuse de Parme" (The Carthusian Nun of Parma) (1839), but much of his influential work is of earlier date.
In an essay, which was translated into English in 1823, Beyle contrasts the style of Racine with that of Shakespeare, to the glory of the latter. Voltaire's tribute to the effect of the free note in English literature applies with renewed force to the years when the Waverley novels began to fill his countrymen with enthusiasm for romance. Beyle's efforts to enlarge and enrich the national literature by introducing foreign theories and treatment were being put in execution. French dramatists and poets were busy transferring Othello and Shylock, Cromwell and Chatterton to their stage. The old national romances of Spain, Germany and other lands were also pressed into the new movement. Not only the poetical renaissance, but also the monarchial Restoration, had marked effect on the young writers of the time. The temporary result was a curious blending of effete conservatism with a sham liberty, but this could not last. If the Romantic spirit meant anything, it meant absolute freedom of range. It would discern and employ whatever of beauty the church and the throne had to boast, but it would enslave itself to neither. A small group, known as the Cénacle, withdrew from court service, and became the apostles of Romanticism, liberated from every species of fashionable patronage.