The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal


This translation of La Chartreuse de Parme has been made from the reprint in two volumes of the first edition (Paris, Les éditions G. Grès et Cie. MCMXXII), with reference also to the stereotyped edition published by MM. Calmami Levy and to the reprint issued by M. Flammarion in his series, Les meilleurs auteurs classiques (1921). I am also indebted to the extremely literal version by Signora Maria Ortiz (Biblioteca Sansoniana Straniera — La Certosa di Parma — G. C. Sansoni, Firenze, 1922), which has thrown a ray of light on several dark passages.

The Chartreuse was written in (and not a distance of three hundred leagues from) Paris, and in the short interval between November 4, 1838, and December 26 of that year. So much the author reveals in a note, which I do not translate: “The Char, made 4 novembre 1838 — 26 décembre id. The 3 septembre 1838, I had the idea of the Char. I begined it after a tour in Britanny, I suppose, or to the Havre. I begined the 4 nov. till the 26 décembre. The 26 dec. I send the 6 énormes cahiers to Kol for les faire voir to the bookseller.” His object in pretending to have written the book in 1830 may have been to establish a prescriptive immunity from any charge of traducing the government of Louis–Philippe; if so, it is by a characteristic slip that he speaks of having written it towards the end of 1830.

Kol., otherwise Romain Colomb, Beyle’s executor, relates in the Notice Biographique prefixed to Armance that in January, 1839, while the Chartreuse was going through the press, a cahier of sixty pages of the manuscript was mislaid. Unable to find it among the mass of papers that littered his room, Beyle rewrote the sixty pages, and the new version was already in type when he told Colomb of his loss. Colomb at once searched for and found the missing cahier, whereupon Beyle, “stupefied by the ease of my discovery, dreading, in a sense, the sight of this manuscript, would not even glance over it, much less compare it with the pages that had taken its place.”

It was published in March, 1839. In the same year, Beyle began to correct, reduce and amplify the whole work, before he was moved by Balzac’s criticism to condense the first fifty-four pages into four or five. Three copies thus annotated are in existence, one of which has been reproduced in facsimile in an extremely limited edition: (Paris, Edouard Champion, 3 vols. 1921 — 100 copies only.) In 1904 M. Casimir Stryienski reprinted in the first volume of Les Soirées du Stendhal Club (Mercure de France) the two fragments of which a translation follows. The first is intended for inclusion in Chapter V, in the brief account of Fabrizio’s convalescence at Amiens. Colonel Le Baron, the wounded officer whom he met and left at the White Horse Inn at the end of Chapter IV, is now re-introduced as returning to his family at Amiens, and a story is told them which supersedes the account of General Pietranera’s death in Chapter II. The second fragment is a small expansion of the already over-long Chapter VI.

Visitors to Parma will look in vain for most of the architectural monuments which met the gaze of Fabrizio. The Torre Farnese has never existed, though it may have been suggested, as to mass, by the huge fragment of the Palazzo Farnese at Piacenza, as well as by the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, and as to origin, by the story of Parisina and Ugo d’Esté, told in English by Gibbon and Byron. In appearance, it would have been not unlike the tower, also damaged by an earthquake, which stands in the background of Mantegna’s fresco of the Martyrdom of Saint James, in the Church of the Eremitani at Padua. The problem of how a road running out of Parma to the south could lead directly to Sacca and the Po is as insoluble as that of the guarded permission given to Fabrizio in 1815 to read the novels of Walter Scott.

The Steccata of course exists, and the Church of San Giovanni, but the latter is singularly bare of monumental tombs. There is even a Charterhouse, at San Lazzaro Parmense, though it has escaped the attention of Baedeker. There were Farnese, but the last of them died, of the pleasures of the table, in 1731; a portrait of him in his corpulence may be seen by the curious in the Reale Galleria in the Piletta — another large Farnese Palace also unfinished. There is indeed a Cathedral, but there is no Archbishop, and the Bishop’s Palace is an untidy piece of patched-up antiquity.

It is probable that Beyle was led to place the scene of his story at Parma, which, in Rome, Naples et Florence, he had dismissed, not unjustly, as ville d’ailleurs assez plate, precisely because there was not, in 1838, any reigning dynasty in that State. The Duchy of Parma was held and admirably governed by Marie–Louise, the wife and widow of Napoleon, from 1815 until after Beyle’s death in 1843, when she was still in the prime of life, being by some years his junior. Suddenly, in 1847, she died. The Bourbon dynasty, which had been transplanted to the brief Kingdom of Etruria, and in 1814 had been placated with the Republic of Lucca as a temporary Duchy (which Charles II had finally sold, a few months earlier, to its legal heir, the Grand Duke of Tuscany), returned, and rapidly converted Stendhal’s fiction into historical fact. Charles II was almost at once obliged to abdicate. His son, Charles III, proceeded to emulate the career of Ranuccio–Ernesto IV until, in 1854, he met a similar fate. His widow, a daughter of the Duc de Berri, then acted as Regent for her son Robert I, until in 1859 the Risorgimento swept them for ever from their Duchy. Duke Robert died in 1907, the father of twenty children, one of whom, Prince Sixte de Bourbon–Parme, shewed in the late war some reflexion of the spirit of Fabrizio del Dongo, as the curious English reader may find in my translation of his L’Autriche et la paix séparée (Austria’s Peace Offer, London, Constable and Co., Ltd., 1921). Another is the Empress Zita, while a third has re-established the Bourbon dynasty in Northern Europe by becoming the father of the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

Francesco Hayez, the Milanese painter immortalised by his decoration of the palazzo Crescenzi and by his portrait of Fabrizio del Dongo, died at a great age in 1882, having out-lived the date appointed by Beyle for his own immortality.

C. K. S. M.



Fabrizio, well received in this house which seemed to him very pleasant, sought never to speak of the battle, since memories of that sort depressed the Colonel; but as he thought without ceasing of the details of which he had been a witness, he would sometimes return to the topic; then the Colonel placed a finger on his lips with a smile, and spoke of something else. On the other hand, Fabrizio was careful never to say anything that might let it be guessed by what succession of chances he had been brought into the neighbourhood of Waterloo. The ladies especially were constantly placing him under the necessity of finding polite answers which should tell them nothing of what they desired to know. At every moment, by phrases which betrayed the keenest interest, they placed him under the necessity of telling them something; but he got well out of the trap and the ladies knew absolutely nothing, except that he was called Vasi, and even then they had good reason to believe that this name was assumed.

Colonel Le Baron, his wife and the ladies of their acquaintance were therefore devoured by curiosity, this young man’s adventures must indeed be extraordinary.

“All that I can say positively,” repeated the Colonel, “is that he is endowed with the truest courage, the most simple, the most innocent, so to speak. When I was so stupid as to set him on picket at the head of the bridge of La Sainte, and he fought there, one against ten, I would wager that he was drawing a sabre for the first time.”

“And his passport which you went to verify at the municipality is really made out: Vasi, dealer in barometers, travelling with his wares?” . . .

The ladies, that day, plied him with a thousand artful questions about the barometers, he extricated himself with a laugh and very neatly; they consulted him as to the state of the barometer in the house, which they put in his hands, he remembered the tone that, in similar circumstances, Conte Pietranera would have adopted, and, justified by the fun that was being made of him, replied in a tone of the most lively gallantry. His appearance was so modest and his tone was in so strange a contrast to his ordinary manner that it was by no means ill received, the ladies went into fits of laughter. That same evening the Colonel said to them:

“Chance has just offered me a way of finding out our young man’s position; you know that resurrected-looking creature who has come to him from Italy, the man is a lawyer and is called Birague, but besides that he is dying of fright; he speaks bad French, but I hope that his gibberish may not offend you, for he is so driven by fear that each of his sentences says something. This morning, this lawyer who, for some days, has always followed me with his eye at the café, has at last found an excuse for, as he says, presenting his respects to me; I at once thought that perhaps you would deign not to be put off by his speech, which for that matter greatly resembles your young favourite’s; and so I have invited this strange creature to take tea with us this evening, and, if you give me leave, I shall now send Beloir to fetch him from the café.”

Ten minutes later, Trooper Beloir announced at the door of the drawing-room: “M. Birague, avocat.”

The conversation lasted for fully two hours, the ladies heaped every attention on the poor lawyer, who did everything in his power to please them, but it was in vain that they sought to extract from him anything that bore upon Fabrizio; they had lost patience with his discretion, which was not lacking in polite forms of speech, when the Colonel exclaimed:

“I must say, my dear avocat, that you are a very brave man, how could you dare enter France in the present state of things? They are kind enough to give me in the army a certain reputation for bravery, but I must confess to you that in your place, and (I tell you frankly) speaking a French so different from that spoken by the natives of the country, I should never have ventured to penetrate into so disturbed a country. Now I see that you have made a conquest of these ladies, you have an air of sincerity which pleases me and I should like to give you my protection. Madame’s uncle is Mayor of Amiens; I ought to tell you that, since you are not recommended by an Ambassador, your fate lies in his hands. M. le Maire Leborgne has a savage nature, he will never believe that you have come to Amiens for your health,” and so forth.

The ladies were quick in taking the hint given them by the Colonel; they took the utmost pains to give the Milanese lawyer a strong impression of the cruel nature of the worthy M. Leborgne, Mayor of Amiens. Birague turned paler than his shirt, than the white cravat and enormous hat in which he had attired himself that evening to be presented to ladies; but he found himself so well treated that finally about eleven o’clock he ventured to ask the Colonel if he had any horses. The Colonel asked him whether, at that time of night, he wished to go for a ride, saying that he had only two horses, which indeed were a pair of screws, but that he placed them willingly at his service.

“I should not think of going out by the gate at this hour, and running the risk of seeing myself questioned by the police, but I find so estimable a humanity in your heart and in the hearts of these good ladies that I venture to make a request of you; allow me to spend the night in your horses’ hayloft: as it is an idea that has just occurred to me, the terrible Mayor Leborgne would never hear of it and I should spend one night at least in peace and quiet. I am lodging with His Excellency, M. Vasi, but he has committed the imprudence, as a matter of fact long before my arrival, of refusing to see any more of the Duprez family, who are greatly annoyed and who, I have no doubt, would be glad to have their revenge. I have not attempted to hide my feelings in the matter from M. Vasi, I have taken the liberty of saying that this step was rash on his part; but your experience, Monsieur le Colonel, must have taught you what the rashness of youth is. M. Vasi’s answer was that he would have been stifled by boredom if he had continued to spend his evenings with the Duprez family.

“In the present state of things, the Duprez, who, no doubt, desire to be avenged, will not dare to attack a man like M. Vasi, but they will take it out of a poor devil like myself,” and so on.

The Colonel ended by giving M. Birague a letter of recommendation addressed to the Mayor of Amiens, in which he declared that he would answer with his life for M. Birague, a respectable lawyer of Milan, whom he had known when he was stationed in that city.

“Carry this letter on you while you are on your way to the Grand Monarque, and burn all the written or printed documents which you may have in your room; spend a quiet night, but you see that I am answering for you, come tomorrow and tell me your whole history so that, if the Mayor questions me closely, I can make a show of having known you for a long time; say nothing to M. Vasi of what I am doing for you.”

One may imagine whether this evening was amusing for the ladies, but they were afraid of having alarmed M. Birague unduly.

“Really, the man’s appearance was incredible,” said Mme. Le Baron.

“But,” put in one of her friends, “it becomes more and more likely that our young protégé Vasi is a man of consequence in his own country.”

The Colonel had to employ stratagems for a week; M. Birague spoke as freely as could be desired of his own affairs, but was impenetrable on everything that related to Fabrizio. Mme. Le Baron and her friends invited him to luncheon one day when the Colonel was absent and played so cruelly upon M. Birague’s alarm that he ended by saying to them with tears:

“Oh, well, I see that you are good ladies, I see that you would not wish to ruin me, you have immense influence with the Mayor of Amiens, give me your word that you will obtain for me a passport for England signed by the Mayor and I shall at least be able to fly to London in case of danger; my father ordered me to travel by London so as to be able to return to Milan without fear of Barone Binder, the Chief of Police there; he is a man of the same sort as your Mayor, it is not easy to get out of his prisons, once one has got into them.”

“Very well,” exclaimed Mme. Le Baron, “if you are frank with us, I give you my word that tomorrow you shall have your passport for London; we wish no harm to M. Vasi, far from it, this lady,” she pointed to the youngest of her friends, “has a tender regard for him.”

Birague was slightly astonished by the shout of laughter which greeted this admission; he had some difficulty in replying with any clarity to the hundred questions by which he was at once overwhelmed.

The ladies knew already that Vasi was an assumed name, that Fabrizio del Dongo was the second son of the Marchese del Dongo, Second Grand Majordomo Major of the Lombardo–Venetian Kingdom, one of the greatest noblemen in that country, to whom his, Birague’s father, was steward. On the news of Napoleon’s landing from the Gulf of Oranti, in June, regardless of the alarm of his aunt and mother, Fabrizio had fled from his father’s magnificent castle, situated at Grianta, on the Lake of Como, six leagues from the Swiss frontier.

Birague was at this stage in his narrative when the Colonel returned; he was told all that Birague had already said; as his regiment had been stationed for some time at Lodi, a few leagues from Milan, he knew all the principal personages of the court of Prince Eugène.

“What,” he cried, “that Contessa Gina Pietranera, of whom you are speaking to these ladies as the aunt of Fabrizio, is she that famous Contessa Pietranera, the most beautiful woman in Milan in the days of the Viceroy, whose word was law at his court?”

“The very same, Colonel.”

“And what age might she be now?”

“Twenty-seven or twenty-eight; she is more beautiful than ever, but she is completely ruined, her husband was murdered in what they called a duel, and the Contessa was furious at not being able to avenge his death: the General was out shooting in the mountains of Bergamo with some officers of the Ultra Party; he, as you know, although belonging to a family of the old nobility, had always served with the troops of the Cisalpine Republic; there was a luncheon in the course of this shooting party, one of the Ultra officers took the liberty of belittling the courage of the Cisalpine troops; the General struck him a blow, the luncheon was interrupted; as they had no weapons but guns, they fought with those, the poor General fell clone dead, with two bullets in his body; but the details of this duel made such a stir in Milan that all the officers who had been present were obliged to go and travel in Switzerland. The local surgeon who examined the General’s body certified that the bullet which caused his death had entered from the back. This statement by the surgeon came to the Signor Barone Binder, Director General of the Police, Contessa Pietranera knew of it at once, for she can do anything she likes at Milan; all the important people of the place are her friends and are at her service. Twenty-four hours later, there arrived a second statement by the country surgeon from the Bergamo district; it contradicted the first and stated that the bullet which caused the death had entered by the stomach and that the second bullet which had passed through the thigh had also entered from in front; but they said that this surgeon had received a large sum of money. On the very night after the arrival of this second statement, the officers who had been present at the duel left for Switzerland; the funeral was held next day; they were afraid of being mobbed by the crowd, and the strangest thing of all was that the surgeon also left for Switzerland, where he still is. He has never dared to shew his face again in his own neighbourhood; the Bergamasks have sworn to exterminate him; and they don’t take things lightly in that part of the world. It was after that that there Was the famous quarrel between Signora Pietranera and her friend Limercati.”

“What, is that the famous Limercati who, in 1811, had such fine English horses, seven of them?”

“No doubt, Lodovico Limercati; he had forty horses in his stables, he has an income of over two hundred thousand lire; my cousin Èrcole is his factor; but there’s a bad relation for you, he has never thought of employing me as lawyer to the rich Limercati estate.”

“It is terrible, frightful,” cried Mme. Le Baron, “but you spoke of a letter which, I must tell you, excites my curiosity greatly.”



Conte Zurla, the Minister of the Interior, brought to Signora Sanseverina’s Conte Zorafi, who was the Press of Parma.

At the gatherings at which he appeared, that silence, which is often painful at official gatherings, could not find a place, and, in a country which has a terrible police and a State Prison the tower of which, one hundred and eighty feet high, may be seen at the end of every street, all gatherings of more than two persons may be considered official.

One thing that may be said in praise of Zorafi is that he was no more of a spy than any other gentleman at court; in fact, at heart he was ridiculous, but not at all wicked. No other gentleman at court could, without risk to his friends, have seen the Sovereign daily. Zorafi fancied himself a Minister, and was afraid of Conte Mosca. At the same time he was obliged, ten times in a month perhaps, to speak evil of him. When the Conte had scored a marked success in any affair, he was certain to be blamed, the day after, by the Prince’s Press.

Conte Zorafi was a man of spirit who could not bear to have fifty napoleons in his desk. As soon as he saw that sum, or indeed a much less considerable sum in his possession, he would think of spending it. For instance, on the day on which we shall do him the honour of presenting him to the reader, he will have just bought for forty-five napoleons a magnificent English lustre. The purchase made, not knowing where to place it and already caring less about it, he has asked Prinote, the famous jeweller, to keep it in his shop.

This Conte had spent his youth in composing sonnets in an emphatic style over which the people of Lombardy had gone so mad as to compare them to the sonnets of Monti. Now, in some connexion or other, someone had ventured to say in public that this style, which was so emphatic, was emphatic with the simple character of Napoleon; it had required only this comment to make Zorafi’s sonnets fall into disrepute.

And, a surprising thing, Zorafi, whose character was precisely that of a conceited child, had not shewn the slightest annoyance. Besides what was more serious than the decline of his sonnets, he had an income of barely nine or ten thousand lire and spent twenty-five. In spite of these 25,000 lire he frequently had debts, and

these debts were paid every year by an unseen hand.

What then was Zorafi? He was the Prince’s Press.

He was a Conte, as everyone is in Italy, but besides that he had enjoyed the greatest literary renown for ten years. Zorafi was not at all wicked, or at least had only the ill temper of a child. He had the purest Sienese accent. The sentences flowed from his lips with a perfect facility, he spoke of everything with charm, in a word nothing would have been lacking if from time to time he could have found some idea to place in his sentences.

A little time since, the Prince had given Zorafi a carriage, but this was on condition of his paying at least twenty-five visits daily.

“It does not suit me at present to have a newspaper printed,” the Prince had said to him in making him a present of the carriage, with horses attached, and a coachman and groom to boot. “A newspaper conducted by a man of your sort would have a crowd of subscribers; very well, have a crowd of friends and tell them, with the spirit for which you are distinguished, the articles that you would print, if you had the privilege of the newspaper. One day, you shall have this newspaper, and it will bring you in an income of 50,000 lire. For I shall give you plenty of liberty, you will speak of the measures adopted by my Government.”

Once they had observed this mania in Zorafi, people listened to him in society, as in another place they read the Journal Officiel.

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