The Charterhouse of Parma

After another pleasurable and encouraging chiropractic session with Eloise this morning, I finished reading

Beginning with a stumble into the Battle of Waterloo by the idealistic teenage protagonist of this saga from Henri Beyle, who chose the pen-name of Stendhal – that of a small town in Prussia – and ending with the increasingly inevitable tragedy is a thrilling tale of passion and politics, of courtships and courtiers, of love and betrayal, of plot and counter-plot, of scheming and intrigue, of constancy and capriciousness, told with fluent prose displaying an in-depth knowledge of human nature which has kept this masterpiece in print for almost two centuries.

The writer offers skilled descriptions of place and person with a good grasp of dialogue. He understands violence, tenderness, and compassion, as felt and expressed by both men and women, and especially of lovers struggling with vows of constancy before God.

Action sequences carry us along at a rate; only the court intrigue sections drag for this reader. As we near the conclusion we know that the various “star cross’d lovers” as Shakespeare would have called them are heading for disaster, but we are kept in suspense as to who will suffer what and who will reap surprise benefits.

Stendhal must have employed much research in amassing the detail of this historical novel, as must have the translator C.K. Scott Moncrieff, whose work has provided the fluent English version.

The introduction by Gilbert Phelps puts the work in fine context.

Zelma Blakely’s illustrations cleverly incorporate elements of her design to frame her skilful wood-engravings which depict considerable depth of perspective.

This evening we all dined on Jackie’s chicken and turkey jalfrezi or korma according to taste; garlic naan; plain parathas; and savoury rice with mango or scotch bonnet chutney with which the Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Shiraz.