The Italian theme occupies a significant place in the creative heritage of Stendhal. The world of passions and strong characters is explored by the writer in the novel “Vanina Vanini”, and in the “Italian chronicles”. The theme is most deeply and fully revealed in Stendhal’s last completed novel, The Parma Cloister. In it, the theory of the Italian character, which the writer explored in all his books about Italy and her art, receives a worthy artistic expression.
The acquaintance of Stendhal with the ancient Italian manuscript chronicles, with the life of the oldest aristocratic families, gave him the richest food for thought and artistic generalizations. In the chronicles, according to the writer, that “local color” was concluded, without which, as the artists of modern times thought, it is impossible to create a genuine realistic work. One of the family chronicles found by Stendhal – “The origins of the greatness of the Farnese family” – and led the writer to the idea of writing a “small novel.”
Stendhal carries the events described in the chronicle into Italy, so familiar to him in the 19th century. Action in the novel begins in 1796 and ends in 1830, stretching, therefore, for 34 years. At the center of the novel is the fate of that generation of Italians, who came to life at the end of the eighteenth century, at the time of the intoxication of intoxicating hopes for the freedom and solidarity of Italy. The Battle of Waterloo mercilessly dispelled these hopes. But the collapse of freedom-loving illusions did not destroy the personal dignity and nobility of those who with arms in their hands defended independence and trampled upon the honor of their homeland.
Italy, located under the yoke of Austria, divided into many small principalities, was the backyard of the then Western Europe. One of these principalities, namely the duchy of Modena, was portrayed by Stendhal in a novel disguised as the Parma Principality. History immediately and powerfully invades the pages of the Parma monastery: first, as a radiant hope, but soon as a tragedy of the “martyrs of one’s own imagination”, such as the young Italian aristocrat Fabrizio del Dongo.
The young hero of the Parma monastery is the same “natural man” Stendhal liked to reason about. His childhood was spent in an atmosphere of spiritual growth, under the sign of the romance of the battles for freedom, illuminated by the victories of Napoleon. Dreaming of his exploits in the name of his country and freedom, Fabrizio del Dongo hastens to join the troops of his idol on the field of Waterloo, but here the unsophisticated young man is waiting for the first cruel disappointment. He is so young that he is mistaken for anyone – a spy, a deserter, a traitor, but not for a hero. When, finally, the “young hero” gets on the battlefield, he faces face to face with the abominable realities of the human slaughter: mud, blood, confusion, terrible mundane death, panic fear and indiscriminate retreat. A day spent by a young volunteer in the thick of the battle, became for him a chain of continuous nightmares and complete misunderstanding of what is happening. Soldiers seem to him robbers. Those with whom he shoulder to shoulder was going to fight for freedom, robbed his horse to take away the wounded hussar. Fabrizio is not able to really perceive and adequately assess the events that are happening chaotically before his astonished gaze. A soldier who hands a piece of bread to the losing consciousness of a young man seems to him ignoble. But the calculating and cynical markant, who sheltered him in his wagon, is perceived by him as a fairy-tale and magnanimous fairy. Fabrizio is not able to really perceive and adequately assess the events that are happening chaotically before his astonished gaze. A soldier who hands a piece of bread to the losing consciousness of a young man seems to him ignoble. But the calculating and cynical markant, who sheltered him in his wagon, is perceived by him as a fairy-tale and magnanimous fairy. Fabrizio is not able to really perceive and adequately assess the events that are happening chaotically before his astonished gaze. A soldier who hands a piece of bread to the losing consciousness of a young man seems to him ignoble. But the calculating and cynical markant, who sheltered him in his wagon, is perceived by him as a fairy-tale and magnanimous fairy.
Stendal’s battle scenes, according to Honore de Balzac and Leo Tolstoy, were for that time an example of unsurpassed realistic mastery in depicting the everyday life of the...
However, let’s return to our hero. After the defeat of Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo, Fabrice returns to Parma and, as a result of the machinations of high-ranking scoundrels, gets sent to prison for a long time. Stendhal satirically depicts the nobility and the clergy of Italy during the Restoration, betraying the national interests of their homeland. He contrasts with the court society a young brave woman, a proud and brilliant duchess Jean Pietranera Sanseverin, the favorite of Parma. She is cordially attached to her nephew Fabrizio del Dongo and is ready in the name of her feelings to do everything possible and impossible to save him.
True to his theory of the Italian character, according to which only sense dominates in him, Stendhal gives his heroine an all-consuming feeling of hatred for the duke of tiny Parma and his sycophants. The writer creates the ideal image of this woman. And although it acts almost always recklessly, and at first glance even immoral: bribes servants and jailers, “deceives” its former coachman Ludovico and Ferrante Palla, organizes the murder of one prince and gives himself to another, all these actions ultimately reveal the greatness her soul – chaste, true and therefore beautiful.
Reflecting on Gina’s behavior, Honore de Balzac writes: “The whole world is a stepping stone to her passion, and in this the woman is taller and more beautiful than a man.” It is not for nothing that Gina Sanseverine is happy to be helped by the “brave and indomitable” poet-rebel Ferrante Palla, declared by the Austrian authorities “a bandit from the big road”. Hiding in the woods after the failure of the conspiracy of the Carbonarians, the tribune of the people adjoins the community of “ardent souls”. Ferrante Palla gives Gina’s concerns about rescuing her beloved nephew, the significance of the rebellious challenge thrown by police despotism, triumphant in her victory in Italy.
Reaching in the novel a high degree of artistic truth, Stendhal portrays also such personalities, who even in the service of the prince, who wrinkled himself from the “sun king” of Louis XIV, represent a positive beginning. First of all, it concerns the image of Count Mosca. Even when describing the portrait of the Count whom Stendhal certainly sympathizes with, he very subtly and at the same time with undisguised sarcasm emphasizes how miserable people have to count, a man of honor and duty, to serve: “He would be still handsome if, for the sake of the prince, he did not have to powder his hair to prove his trustworthiness. “
Readers-contemporaries found out in the image of Count Mosca the politician Metternich, with whom Stendhal met in Modena. The meeting with this bright personality left a deep imprint in the memory of the writer-diplomat.
Neither Count Mosca, nor his beloved Duchess Sanseverine, in fact, nothing from the surrounding is not necessary. They are self-sufficient. The earl can easily part with his office, for which people from his entourage are ready to go to any meanness. He is at any time ready to leave with his beloved in a small estate, away from the petty bustle of court nobles. They are little occupied with ranks, riches, worship of fools. For them there simply does not exist “virtues” honored by court servants. They all profess a cult of happiness, faithful friendship and passionate passion. But their love and independence cause envy and irritation both in the Parma prince and in the courtiers.
The last pages of the novel are covered with the inconsolable grief of the writer about the lives and passions with which the cruel world does not forgive their precious genuineness.
At the end of the novel, where the word “end” is usually written, Stendhal placed an English saying: “To the happy few” – “For the few lucky ones”. Entrusting the “Parma monastery” to a handful of selected minds, he seemed to overshadow his next offspring from the insult of silence, which contemporaries of Stendhal met all of his works. But this time the silence was broken by Honoré de Balzac’s enthusiastic praise: “a man of great talent,” “one of the masters of the literature of ideas,” “a magician,” whose work is full of truth and at the same time “shaking with its art, complexity and clarity.”