Stendhal’s Less-Loved Heroines: Fiction, Freedom, and the Female by Maria C. Scott (review)
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Stendhal’s Less-Loved Heroines: Fiction, Freedom, and the Female. By Maria C. Scott. (Research Monographs in French Studies, 37.) Oxford: Legenda, 2013. x + 131 pp.

The dominant tradition in Stendhal criticism claims to be gender-neutral but is, Maria Scott argues, fundamentally androcentric. Critics have tended to identify with the male hero and to prefer Stendhal’s meeker heroines over the more audacious ones — the ‘trop fameuses Amazones’, as Michel Crouzet has it (quoted on p. 4). In this welldocumented and cogently argued study Scott seeks to redress the balance in favour of a female point of view, citing in her defence Stendhal’s own belief in the inevitable partiality of the reader. Close analysis of the plot of each text shows how the heroines Scott wants to defend — Mina de Vanghel, Vanina Vanini, Mathilde de la Môle, and Lamiel — live lives that are at odds with the advice Stendhal gave his sister: they resist the plots others would impose on them (for the most part involving marriage) and invent their own counterplots. In the case of both Mina and Vanina, the ‘étrange démarche’ adopted by each is logical, in view of her situation (OEuvres romanesques, i, ed. by Yves Ansel and Philippe Berthier (Paris: Gallimard, 2005), pp. 259, 307), and the ending is not a defeat or the result of a ‘faux calcul’ (ibid., p. 329), but a final affirmation of freedom. The origin of this study, Scott tells us, lies in her undergraduate days, when she found Mathilde a more interesting character than Julien, and it is Scott’s reading of Le Rouge et le noir that is perhaps most novel: Mathilde is seen as less dependent than either Julien or Mme de Rênal on the opinions of others; the theatricality for which she is often criticized reflects Stendhal’s own; like his, it is an exercise in freedom. In the novel’s famous defence of itself (‘un miroir qui se promène . . .’), Mathilde might properly be identified with the blue of the sky rather than the dirt of the road. Lamiel has already had her defenders among male critics: for Philippe Berthier, ‘elle s’affirme sujet’ (Scott, p. 115); for [End Page 400] C. W. Thompson, it is Lamiel, and not Sansfin, ‘qui se montrera en fin de compte un être authentiquement rebelle’ (‘Lamiel’, fille du feu (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1997), p. 91). But Scott’s close reading (based on Del Litto’s edition of 1971 and arguing that Lamiel II is not at odds with Lamiel I) gives further weight to her general thesis that nineteenthcentury social and narrative conventions are hostile to the expression of female freedom. Lamiel and its heroine are to be read as unserious, playful, ‘an experiment in unrelenting freedom’ (p. 111); the burning of the Palais de Justice becomes a final and joyful explosion of energy. One might perhaps regret the exclusion from Scott’s list of Mina Wanghen, whose relation with her mother makes of her a ‘somewhat less wilful character’ (p. 43) and an interesting variant on the others. But Scott makes a good case for the view that her chosen four represent most clearly Stendhal’s career-long project to give fictional expression to female freedom. Her book should help to make these figures better understood and loved than they have sometimes been in the past.

Sheila M. Bell
University of Kent