Dedicated to classics and hits.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


The Charterhouse of Parma
by Stendhal
originally published 1839
this edition Barnes & Nobles "LIBRARY OF ESSENTIAL READING SERIES"
p. 2006

  Am I only the one who can imagine a post-apocalyptic scenario where the only remaining books are located in a bombed out Barnes & Noble?  If that were the case, this 2006 Barnes & Noble edition of The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal might be the only COPY LEFT of this book in the whole world.

  That would be sad, because this edition of Charterhouse of Parma, translated by Lady Mary Loyd, was initially published in 1901.(1)  It was obviously chosen by Barnes & Noble because it's publication date places it in the public domain.  The Oxford's Worlds Classics edition, translated by Margaret Mauldon dates from 1997.

  I would call Lady Mary Loyd's translation of The Charterhouse of Parma terrible, and therefore this book is essentially useless for anyone who has made an intelligent choice as to which translation they pick- as I did not.

  In particular I would like to point out the translator's use of the word FREAK- apparently in either it's meaning in 1901 OR some early meaning from the 19th century in either French or Italian usage.  I am wholly unaware of what meaning this word could have as of 1901, or as of 1955- when the translation was allegedly revised by Robert Cantwell.

  The Charterhouse of Parma was Stendhal's last work before he died in 1842.   His life/career is the sort that begins to tickle the fancy of a would-be modern Artist, in that he was self-conscious about Romantic canon's of Artistic behavior. In fact, he wrote widely on non-fiction topics, mainly in the are of Art, Travel and Aesthetics that would be familiar to any PBS documentary host.  An Anthony Bourdain of his day, without the food.

  One broad generalization that you can make about early 19th century French Novelists, is that they were able to 'play' with Romantic literary themes in a way that both embraced them and commented critically on them at the same time, with the use of "Realist" techniques.   This complementing use of Romanticism and Realism in the service of Art is a popular mix that didn't really find full exposition until Movies blossomed in the 20th century, but the extent that one art form can inspire another, The Charterhouse of Parma is epic and cinematic in scope in a way that few books were before.

  The "few books that were before" are mostly the novels of Sir Walter Scott who was spinning off hit after hit through the 1820s.   I'm assuming that Scott was familiar to Stendhal. Stendhal's non-fiction background separates him from the "pure" Novelists that were yet to come, but he was def. self-consciously Romantic in temperament and his works powerfully reflect that theme.

  He also fearlessly jumps between time periods in a way that pre-saged Modernist technique.  The use of time like that sweeps the reader along through the narrative, and the transitions require attention.

 However, I can't recommend this version because I personally think the translation is terrible. And what does the word "freak" mean throughout the novel?  Like an emotional freak-out?


(1)  The Oxford Guide To Literature in English Translation, 2001 edition, viewed in Google Libary clip form.

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