Nineteenth Century French Studies 31.3&4 (2003) 385-388
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Berthier, Philippe, and Pierre-Louis Rey, eds. Stendhal, journaliste anglais. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2001. Pp. 238. ISBN 2-87854-196-0
Del Litto, Victor, ed. Stendhal sous l'œil de la presse contemporaine (1817-1843). Paris: Champion, 2001. Pp. x + 927. ISBN 2-7453-0601-4
These volumes afford complementary perspectives on Stendhal's role in shaping views of literature and society in post-Napoleonic France. The first investigates Stendhal's portrayal of French letters and trends in articles he wrote for the British press, while the second provides an extensive collection of contemporary press reactions, mostly French, to Stendhal's major published works.
During the closing years of the Restoration Stendhal published not only De l'Amour and Armance, but also hundreds of pages of reviews and articles contributed to British journals such as the Paris Monthly Review and the London Magazine. Unsigned or pseudonymous and put into English by unnamed translators, these articles have been retranslated into French and gathered into various editions, the most recent of which is Renée Dénier's Paris-Londres (Paris: Stock, 1997; 967 pp.). The volume edited by Berthier and Rey comprises the proceedings of a conference on Paris-Londres that they organized in 1999. Berthier's short foreword provides essential background information and the observation, echoed by several contributors, that Stendhal's journalism allowed him to hone his skills at witty analysis of social and intellectual life in the country whose soldiers came up short against the British at Waterloo.
The first several papers address Stendhal's representation of the French literary scene. If this strong volume has an Achilles' heel, it is in the fact that the essays in this group are insightful but cover much the same ground and reach similar conclusions. Three of them, for example, reproduce Stendhal's tripartite division of French literary clans (11, 30, 46; a fourth provides a summary, 62). There is significant duplication of effort in the analysis of certain positions and tendencies: Stendhal's objections to interest groups and other "coteries," his acerbic comments on the contemporary literary and publishing scene, his capacity for disguised self-promotion, and the development [End Page 385] of aesthetic views that are also aired in better-known pieces such as Racine et Shakespeare and Vie de Rossini. Yves Ansel identifies Stendhal as "le premier historien de ces 'épidémies de l'esprit' que sont les modes intellectuelles" (19) and highlights his shrewd understanding of emerging strategies for marketing published works to various interest groups. Shifting the perspective somewhat, Michel Arrous portrays the French columnist less as a cultural historian and more as a critic and activist who denounces the tactics of certain vain Paris-based writers bent on promoting selected literary commodities. Brigitte Diaz's Stendhal, who can be qualified as a "sociologue de la littérature" (41), is torn between republican sentiments and the elitist conviction that democratization and commodification spell decline for literature. By inferring positive traits from the foibles denounced in Stendhal's pointed critique of contemporary writers, José-Luis Diaz finds that the French journalist fulfills his own criteria for an ideal romantic author. Focusing on views of comic writing, Francesco Spandri discerns in Stendhal a growing conviction that realistic prose fiction is replacing theatrical comedies as the most promising outlet for satire and humor. Such prescience redounds to Stendhal's credit, but evidence may nonetheless be insufficient for us to conclude with Karin Gundersen that Stendhal, partly by virtue of his journalistic activities, is the embodiment of French literature in his time (98).
A second group of studies shares a transnational perspective. Suzel Esquier argues that Stendhal's 1822 article on Rossini for the Paris Monthly Review was flawed but influential, especially in subsequent versions, which added a mythical dimension to the composer's reputation outside Italy. Shakespeare, concludes Martine Reid, was for Stendhal an icon representing literary freedom, cosmopolitanism, and modernity. Like some British liberals, according to Richard Bolster, Stendhal...