Nineteenth Century French Studies 31.3&4 (2003) 388-389
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Crouzet, Michel, ed. Stendhal: D'un nouveau complot contre les industriels. Jaignes: La Chasse au Snark, 2001. Pp. 143. ISBN 2-914015-12-7
Near the end of 1825, having reached his satirical stride with the publication of the second Racine et Shakespeare a few months earlier, Stendhal joined a new polemical fray. Disciples of the utopian economist Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, recently deceased, had founded a journal in which they were beating the utilitarian drum too loudly for Stendhal's aesthetic sensibility. Moreover, there had been controversy surrounding bankers who stood to be enriched by the financial settlement with Haiti (France agreed to recognize the new republic's independence if it would pay an indemnity of 150 million francs; the cash-strapped young country would have to borrow heavily in order to make payments). Stendhal shot off D'un nouveau complot contre les industriels; fire was returned.
Certainly, there had been provocation ("[l]'industrialisme, un peu cousin du charlatanisme [...]," 58). And the pamphleteer's analysis of class structure might seem a bit cavalier: the wealthy do not care for thinking, while ordinary working folk don't have time; that leaves "la classe pensante" (57) in the middle with the responsibility for shaping public opinion. That opinion, cautioned the thoughtful satirist, should reserve its highest praise not for successful industrialists, who benefit society merely by pursuing their self-interest, but for courageous individuals who make sacrifices for the common good, and for freedom. These individuals, we might observe, are those whose actions are most likely to make a good story; romantisme oblige. Stendhal's economics is a drop in the bucket of his aesthetics, and this makes D'un nouveau complot worthy of attention in our consumption-driven age. [End Page 388]
The short pamphlet occupies barely sixteen pages in this exhaustively annotated pocket edition. As one of Stendhal's most obscure and least read works - the back cover says as much - D'un nouveau complot benefits greatly from Michel Crouzet's added material. This includes a preface (7-51), detailed notes (73-85), and a bibliography (87-88). There is also an appendix providing information on the financial settlement with Haiti in 1825, as well as selections from personal letters and the press that shed light on public perception of Stendhal during a period of polemical exchanges following the pamphlet's publication. Crouzet's analysis of the text and context, informed by encyclopedic knowledge of Stendhal and his era, is remarkable for its blend of big picture and small detail. Among the many questions he takes up is that of the enigmatic title. What was the previous plot against industrialists, if there has been a "nouveau complot"? Perhaps, as Crouzet surmises, the answer is this: "le complot du titre est le pamphlet lui-même" (16)!
Handsomely printed (although with more than a few typographical lapses) on superior paper, this convenient and well-documented edition of Stendhal's satirical pamphlet will be useful to specialists in various areas of nineteenth-century letters and thought.
James T. Day
University of South Carolina