Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stendhal and Rousseau

When I came across this in Ch. 13, I began to wonder if Stendhal was poking fun at Rousseau:
He discovered a small cave in the almost perpendicular face of one of the rocks. He set his course for it, and presently was ensconced in this retreat. 'Here,' he said, his eyes sparkling with joy, 'men can do me no harm.' It occurred to him to indulge in the pleasure of writing down his thoughts, so dangerous to him in any other place. A smooth block of stone served as his table. His pen flew: he saw nothing of the scene round about him. At length he noticed that the sun was setting behind the distant mountains of Beaujolais.

'Why should I not spend the night here?' he asked himself; 'I have bread, and I am free!' At the sound of that great word his heart leaped, his hypocrisy meant that he was not free even with Fouque. His head supported on both his hands, Julien stayed in this cave happier than he had ever been in his life, engrossed in his dreams and in the joy of freedom. Without heeding it he saw fade and die, one after another, the last rays of evening light.
I haven't read much philosophy, but it seems that Julien fits the type of the Romantic-hero wannabe. Is Stendhal slyly criticizing this ideal, or is he demonstrating (through Julien) how the ideal can never by reached by someone of such shallow character?

6 Comments:

Blogger Bud Parr said...

Isn't that the beauty of this (one of my all time favs) book? Opening with Julien crying over his book being lost in the water then moving into the territory of social climber extraordinaire and then on to a principled hypocrisy, his character is as complex as the society he's bucking up against.

12:46 AM  
Blogger amcorrea said...

Yes, definitely. I'm getting the impression that "Julien" and "society" are mirrors held up to one another, and so I'm having trouble distinguishing who's criticizing whom. But it's nice and complex--am enjoying Stendhal's sense of humor, too.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Isabella said...

I don't know much about Rousseau, but his ideas were very popular at that time. Pierre in War and Peace also referred to him — it seems he suits Napoleon's admirers well (and the aristocrats poo-pooh him).

Any mention of caves, though, puts me in mind of Plato.

I like these glimpses of Julien alone — perhaps it's the only time his true self is revealed. He may be a Romantic-hero wannabe, but it seems genuinely felt. (I'm not ready to say Julien's shallow.)

"Principled hypocrisy" — there's a phrase I'll have to remember. No philosophy's perfect.

12:05 PM  
Blogger amcorrea said...

How about "fickle"? :)

1:27 PM  
Blogger nessie said...

Ok you have me hooked... which means my recent purchases will have to go on hold and have to move up & read this book already.
Am sending the link to a friend aka M on my blog aka Book Nazi who recommended this book to me.

11:47 AM  
Blogger amcorrea said...

Julien's reaction when Mathilde compares him to Rousseau:

His mouth framed a look of disdain, perhaps a bit exaggerated.

"Jean-Jacques Rousseau," he answered, "is simply a fool when he tries to analyze high society. He knows nothing about it; he displays the soul of an upstart servant."


Made me giggle.

3:21 PM  

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