The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal

To the Reader

It was in the winter of 1830 and three hundred leagues from Paris that this tale was written; thus it contains no allusion to the events of 1839.

Many years before 1830, at the time when our Armies were overrunning Europe, chance put me in possession of a billeting order on the house of a Canon: this was at Padua, a charming town in Italy; my stay being prolonged, we became friends.

Passing through Padua again towards the end of 1830, I hastened to the house of the good Canon: he himself was dead, that I knew, but I wished to see once again the room in which we had passed so many pleasant evenings, evenings on which I had often looked back since. I found there the Canon’s nephew and his wife who welcomed me like an old friend. Several people came in, and we did not break up until a very late hour; the nephew sent out to the Caffè Pedrocchi for an excellent zabaione. What more than anything kept us up was the story of the Duchessa Sanseverina, to which someone made an allusion, and which the nephew was good enough to relate from beginning to end, in my honour.

“In the place to which I am going,” I told my friends, “I am not likely to find evenings like this, and, to while away the long hours of darkness, I shall make a novel out of your story.”

“In that case,” said the nephew, “let me give you my uncle’s journal, which, under the heading Parma, mentions several of the intrigues of that court, in the days when the Duchessa’s word was law there; but, have a care! this story is anything but moral, and now that you pride yourselves in France on your gospel purity, it may win you the reputation of an assassin.”

I publish this tale without any alteration from the manuscript of 1830, a course which may have two drawbacks:

The first for the reader: the characters being Italians will perhaps interest him less, hearts in that country differing considerably from hearts in France: the Italians are sincere, honest folk and, not taking offence, say what is in their minds; it is only when the mood seizes them that they shew any vanity; which then becomes passion, and goes by the name of puntiglio. Lastly, poverty is not, with them, a subject for ridicule.

The second drawback concerns the author.

I confess that I have been so bold as to leave my characters with their natural asperities; but, on the other hand — this I proclaim aloud — I heap the most moral censure upon many of their actions. To what purpose should I give them the exalted morality and other graces of French characters, who love money above all things, and sin scarcely ever from motives of hatred or love? The Italians in this tale are almost the opposite. Besides, it seems to me that, whenever one takes a stride of two hundred leagues from South to North, the change of scene that occurs is tantamount to a fresh tale. The Canon’s charming niece had known and indeed had been greatly devoted to the Duchessa Sanseverina, and begs me to alter nothing in her adventures, which are reprehensible.

23rd January, 1839.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00