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Stendhal in 1840,
portrait by Olof Johan Södermark

Marie-Henri Beyle , better known under his pseudonym Stendhal  [ stɛ̃dal ] (born January 23, 1783 in Grenoble , † March 23, 1842 in Paris ), was a French writer , military and politician. Known better as a journalist, critic and essayist in his time, he is now considered one of the earliest representatives of literary realism due to the analytical character of his novels .

Origin of the pseudonym

Winckelmann, portrayed by Mengs around 1775

Beyles pseudonym Stendhal is derived from a widespread view of the city of Stendal , which is located in the Altmark in what is now the state of Saxony-Anhalt . Contrary to earlier opinion, the French writer's motivation for his choice is not the admiration for the art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann , whose hometown was Stendal, but whom he considered a classicist pedant. Beyle lived from 1807 to 1808 in Braunschweig, relatively close to Stendal, and maintained a close relationship with Wilhelmine von Griesheim (1786–1861) and her family during this time .

It is controversial how he himself pronounced this name, whether (like most educated French people today) with e- Nasal (as if the spelling were Stindal or Steindal ) or with a-Nasal (like Standal ), which some experts consider more plausible.

Life and work


Stendhal (left) during his time at the École centrale
anonymous portrait of the father (around 1800)

Stendhal was the eldest of three children of Chérubin Beyle, a bourgeois lawyer at the Supreme Court ( Parlement ) of the Dauphiné province with aristocratic ambitions . When he was six, he lost his mother giving birth to his youngest sister. Also because of the resulting trauma, he deeply resented his father when he fell into a relationship with his mother's sister and exposed the son to the "tyranny" of an unloved tutor, a former clergyman. At the same time, however, the boy was greatly encouraged by his maternal grandfather, Gagnon, a doctor who was interested in aesthetics and who adored Voltaire , and his unmarried sister. During the reign of terror (la Terreur) of 1793 and 1794, he sympathized with the revolutionary Jacobins out of defiance against his royalist father and was downright happy when the latter was arrested and was in danger of being guillotined .

From 1796 to 1799 he attended the Grenoble École centrale, which was newly established after a school reform - at which he excelled in mathematics - and then went from the narrow provincial town he hated to Paris to study at the new École polytechnique . He did not register for the entrance examination (concours) , but began to write plays and other things. Soon afterwards he fell ill in his barren and cold furnished room and was then taken into their house by distant cousins, the somewhat older Daru brothers .

Pierre Daru , Minister under Napoleon

Military time

The Darus belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte's immediate environment and participated in his brilliant rise to rulers of all of Central Europe. As her relative and protégé, Stendhal also benefited from this proximity. He first took part in Napoleon's victorious Italian campaign as a very young lieutenant in the 6th Dragoon Regiment from 1799–1800 . As a general's adjutant , he got to know the best side of the country, especially the city of Milan, and developed into a lover of Italian art, music and the way of life. However, he was also infected with syphilis in a brothel , the acute stage of which forced him to quit military service in 1802.

Temporarily recovered, he spent a few years with fruitful reading and all sorts of fruitless literary, business and amorous experiments in Grenoble, Marseille and Paris. In 1806, meanwhile war was again, he rejoined the Darus and advanced to Imperial War Commissioner and then administrator of the imperial domains in the Oker department of the Kingdom of Westphalia , a short-lived French satellite state that was founded in 1807 and ruled by Napoleon's younger brother Jérôme Bonaparte . In his testimonies from and about Braunschweig (1806–1808) , which contains letters, diaries and travelogues, he provided an amusing description of Braunschweig society.

Between 1810 and 1811 he continued his career in Paris and for a short time became head of the administration of the imperial properties , especially the castles and their art treasures. In 1812 he took part in Napoleon's Russian campaign and came to Moscow with the Grande Armée in September. He survived the subsequent, extremely loss-making retreat unscathed. In 1813 he was Imperial Intendant in Silesia for a short time .

He then suffered another attack of syphilis and took longer vacations in 1813 and 1814, some of which he spent in Italy, especially in Milan, the city he had come to love as a young officer. He experienced the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire in his native Grenoble. It is uncertain whether his letter of nobility was actually ready to be signed on Napoleon's desk when he was defeated and abdicated in 1814. After all, he later adorned his most widely used and best-known pseudonym “Stendhal” - like many other writers of that time - with a noble “de”.


Like so many high Napoleonic officials, Stendhal did not find a place in the naturally greatly reduced officials of the " Restoration Regime " under King Louis XVIII in 1814 . and then became Napoleon nostalgic and liberal, d. H. Opposition. He went to Milan once more and here finally became a man of letters with biographies, art historical works and travel books, which he initially published under changing pseudonyms and finally under the name “M [onsieur]. de Stendhal ”published. In 1815 the Lettres écrites de Vienne en Autriche sur le célèbre compositeur Joseph Haydn, suivies d'une vie de Mozart et de considérations sur Métastase , et l'état présent de la musique en Italie (reissued in 1817 as Vies de Haydn, Mozart et Métastase ). In 1817, in addition to the Histoire de la peinture en Italie , his Promenades dans Rome, Naples et Florence in 1817 came out; Because of the description of overstimulation in Florence, the Stendhal syndrome was named after him in 1979. A Vie de Napoléon , on which he worked between 1817 and 1818, remained a fragment and was only printed posthumously in 1929.

Matilde Dembowski


In March 1818, Stendhal met Matilde (Métilde) Viscontini Dembowski (1790-1825) in Milan, the great, passionate and yet ultimately unfulfilled love of his life. Matilde, née Visconti, came from a Lombard banking family and was married to the Polish-Italian general Jan Dembowski (1773-1823), who was formerly in Napoleonic service and now in Austrian service. The love affair with this self-confident and independent woman, who had lived separately from her husband since 1814, absorbed him until 1824 and "was the great tragedy, which, however, fertilized him for the rest of his life, from which the compiler [...] was finally to make the novelist Stendhal" .

Matilde was immediately a source of inspiration for Stendhal, who was carried away by her charms, for the essayistic work De l'amour (published 1822). She was also the literary model for other female characters from Stendhal, for example for Mathilde de la Mole in Rouge et le Noir , who certainly did not have the first name of her lover by chance, or Bathilde de Chasteller in his unfinished novel Lucien Leuwen .

In 1819, after the death of his supposedly wealthy father, Stendhal learned that he had left only an unexpectedly small fortune, which from then on forced him to work as a journalist, especially since his essay De l'amour was not a commercial success either.


In 1821 Stendhal was suspected of being a conspirator by the Austrian authorities in Milan because of his contacts with opposition intellectuals such as Silvio Pellico and Alessandro Manzoni . He left the beloved city (to which he was not to return) and spent some unsteady years in Paris, London and again in Italy, until he settled in Paris in 1824, where he worked as a journalist, among other things with art and music reviews Water held. In addition, he moved in the circles of the so-called "ideologues" around their pioneer Destutt de Tracy , but also the romanticists, in whose struggle against the still prevailing classicism he participated with the pamphlet Racine et Shakespeare (1823). Also in 1823 his biography Vie de Rossini appeared . In 1825 he got involved in political discussions on the part of the opposition Saint-Simoniens with the font Nouveau complot contre les industriels .

From 1826, The London Magazine published a total of 29 well-paid articles under the title Sketches of Parisian Society, Politics and Literature , in which he reported on French politics and Paris society. In 1827 Stendhal published his first novel, Armance , the tender love story set in Paris around 1820 between the poor young aristocrat Armance and the wealthy, apparently impotent Octave, who committed suicide on a ship heading for Greece after their marriage.

Stendhal had his novellist debut followed up with a new travel book ( Promenades dans Rome , 1829) and, like his younger friend Prosper Mérimée and other authors, tried the new fashion genre of the novella , with Vanina Vanini (1829), Le Coffre et le revenant and Le Philtre (both 1830). In October 1829, while on a trip to Marseille, he had the idea for a novel that he began immediately and that would become his masterpiece: Le Rouge et le Noir .

After the July Revolution of 1830 he regained hope for a higher post in the civil service, e.g. B. as prefect. However, he only received that of a consul in Trieste , Austria , where he was classified as a former conspirator on his arrival at the end of the year and he was refused admission. In 1831 he was only consul in the small port city of Civitavecchia in the Papal States , but his most frequent residence was Rome, only a few hours away from Civitavecchia .

Le Rouge et le Noir , title page from 1854

At the end of 1830, a few months after the July Revolution and actually rendered obsolete by it, Le Rouge et Le Noir ( red and black ) came out. It is the tragic story of a capable and ambitious craftsman's son. In the restoration regime dominated by reactionary aristocrats, scheming clergy and opportunistic bourgeoisie, the young provincial Julien Sorel ultimately failed to become a general or bishop despite his talents, merits and some considerable successes (according to a widespread interpretation, the two colors of the at the time are just as puzzling how pretentiously respected novel title for military and clerical careers). He only makes it to the lover of an older woman and then to the fiance of a younger noblewoman. Eventually he suffers a heroically accepted death on the scaffold.

After a few more stories, Stendhal wrote the autobiographical souvenirs d'égotisme in 1832 (published only posthumously) and began the novel Lucien Leuwen in 1834 , which, although far advanced, remained unfinished. This tells the story of a Parisian banker's son, who, to a certain extent, was supposed to pursue the officer career that was impossible for Julien Sorel, but who, under the hand, developed very outmoded sympathies for the aristocracy, who were disempowered after 1830, fell in love with a noble young widow, but left her when he betrayed himself believes, and afterwards in Paris as an adlatus to a minister, he gets to know the dirty side of politics, whereupon he virtually slips away from his author.

To travel

Portrait of Louis Ducis, 1835

Stendhal then set his sights on himself again, and in 1835 and 1836 wrote another unfinished story of his youth (Vie de Henry Brulard) . He used a three-year leave of absence to travel, but also to extensive stays in Paris, where he was made Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1835 . During the same period he wrote a series of historical novels, the plot of which he relocated to the Italian Renaissance , when, in his opinion, people still possessed passion and energy ( Chroniques italiennes , 1837–39).

In November and December 1838, in just 53 days in Civitavecchia, he dictated the novel La Chartreuse de Parme , the exciting story of the young Lombard aristocrat Fabrice del Dongo, who tried to help Napoleon of the Hundred Days . After this capital mistake, he only managed a career within the Church in the reactionary Northern Italy of the Restoration, and that only thanks to the intrigues of his beautiful and energetic young aunt. He eventually becomes bishop and at the same time the lover of the beautiful general daughter Clélia Conti. The novel ends - like the two books by Le Rouge et le Noir  - with the English dedication “To the happy few”, which later became famous. It was discussed enthusiastically by Balzac in Revue Parisienne (1840) and was Stendhal's only book success during his lifetime.

At the end of 1839 Stendhal was working on a new novel, Lamiel , which, however, also remained a fragment. After a first stroke in March 1841, he died in a second attack a year later in Paris while on leave of absence.


Gravestone in the Montmartre cemetery with the Italian funerary saying

("He wrote, loved, lived")
Works published during his lifetime
  • Histoire de la Peinture en Italie (Paris 1817)
  • Rome, Naples et Florence (Angoulême 1817, German trip in Italy  - Internet Archive )
  • De l'Amour (Paris 1822, Eng. Of love )
  • Racine et Shakespeare (Paris 1823)
  • Vie de Rossini (Paris 1823)
  • Racine et Shakespeare. II (Paris 1825)
  • D'un nouveau complot contre les industriels (Paris 1825)
  • Armance. Quelques scènes d'un salon de Paris en 1827 (Paris 1827)
  • Promenades dans Rome (Paris 1829, German walks in Rome  - Internet Archive )
  • Le Rouge et le Noir (Paris 1830, German red and black )
  • Mémoires d'un touriste (Paris 1838)
  • La Chartreuse de Parme (Paris 1839, German: The Charterhouse of Parma ; filmed in the Italian television series La Certosa di Parma , 1982).
  • Chroniques Italiennes. L'Abbesse de Castro (plus Vittoria Accoramboni et Les Cenci) (Paris 1839, German The Abbess of Castro - KOLIMO / University of Göttingen )
  • Idées italiennes sur quelques tableaux célèbres (Paris 1840)
Works published posthumously
  • Correspondance (two volumes, 1855)
  • Journal (1801-1823)
  • Filosofia nova
  • Théâtre
  • Molière, Shakespeare, la Comédie et le Rire
  • Écoles italiennes de peinture
  • Pages d'Italie
  • Mélanges de politique et d'histoire
  • Courrier anglais
  • Mélanges d'art (1867)
  • Romans et nouvelles
  • Lucien Leuwen (1894)
  • Vie de Henri Brulard (autobiography, 1890)
  • Voyage in the Midi de la France
  • Lamiel (unfinished novel)
  • Mélanges intimes et Marginalia
  • Le Rose et le Vert (1937)
  • Vie de Napoléon (1875)
  • Chroniques Italiennes , consisting of L'Abesse de Castro , Les Cenci , Vittoria Accoramboni , Vanina Vanini and La Duchesse de Palliano , partly also published separately (1885)
  • Nouvelles indites (1855)
  • Lettres intimate (1892)
  • Souvenirs d'égotisme (1892, German memories of an egotist )
Work editions
  • Œuvres complètes . Ed. de Victor Del Litto. Geneva, ISBN 2-05-100729-2 .
  • Œuvres romanesques complètes . Edition établie by Yves Ansel and Philippe Berthier. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Gallimard, Paris 2005. Three volumes (volumes 1 and 2 have been published so far).
New translations
  • Red and black. Chronicle from the 19th century. Edited and translated by Elisabeth Edl , Hanser, Munich 2004.
  • The Charterhouse of Parma . Edited and translated by Elisabeth Edl, Hanser, Munich 2007.


  • Robert Alter : Stendhal. A biography . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1992, ISBN 3-499-13024-6 .
  • H. Chobaut and L. Royer: La famille maternelle de Stendhal: Les Gagnon . Arthaud, Grenoble 1938.
  • Michel Crouzet: Stendhal ou Monsieur moi-même. Flammarion, Paris 1990, ISBN 2-08-067923-6 .
  • Béatrice Didier: Stendhal autobiographe . PUF, Paris 1983, ISBN 2-13-038064-6 .
  • Anna-Lisa Dieter: Eros - Wound - Restoration. Stendhal and the emergence of realism . Fink, Paderborn 2019 (Periplous. Munich Studies in Literary Studies), ISBN 978-3-7705-6002-8 .
  • Margit Ebersbach, Volker Ebersbach : I love, therefore I am: Stendhal. A biographical essay. Shaker Media, Aachen 2017, ISBN 978-3-95631-587-9 .
  • Klaus-Werner Haupt: The two feathers of Johann Winckelmann. Or: if you recognize your luck and use it, it is worth it! Druckzone, Cottbus 2012, ISBN 978-3-00-038509-4 .
  • Paul Hazard: Stendhal, how he lived, wrote and loved . Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 1950.
  • Heinrich Mann : Stendhal. In: Spirit and Action. French from 1780 to 1930. Essays, Berlin 1931. (New edition: Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-596-12860-9 .)
  • Hans Mattauch (ed.): Stendhal: testimonials from and about Braunschweig (1806-1808). Publishing house for regional history, Bielefeld 1999, ISBN 3-89534-283-1 .
  • Michael Nerlich: Stendhal . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1993, ISBN 3-499-50525-8 .
  • Johannes Willms : Stendhal . Hanser, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-446-23419-2 .
  • Stefan Zweig : Three poets of their lives. Casanova - Stendhal - Tolstoy . (= The builders of the world. Volume 3). Insel, Leipzig 1928. (digitized version)

Web links

Commons : Stendhal  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Stendhal  - Sources and full texts (French)
Wikisource: Stendhal  - sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Hans Mattauch, epilogue to “Testimonies from and about Braunschweig 1806-1808”, Bielefeld 1999, p. 263 note 1
  2. Hans Mattauch (Ed.): Stendhal: Testimonials from and about Braunschweig (1806-1808). Publishing house for regional history, Bielefeld 1999.
  3. Johannes Willms: Stendhal . Hanser, Munich 2010, p. 181.
  4. Stendhal, for example, spoke of “Mme. M. V., which in its beauty resembles the enchanting Herodias by Leonardo da Vinci ”. Quoted from the afterword by Elisabeth Edl in Stendhal: Die Kartause von Parma , Hanser, Munich 2007, p. 862, note 15. Stendhal refers to a painting that is now attributed to Bernardino Luini and interpreted as a representation of Salome . For the painting, see Bernardino Luini .
  5. See the foreword by Marie Parmentier in the French edition: Stendhal, Le Rouge et le Noir , Paris (Flammarion) 2013, especially pp. 7–12.
  6. KOLIMO: Corpus of literary modernity. Description of the project on