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This article is taken from PN Review 201, Volume 38 Number 1, September - October 2011.

Stendhal's Syndrome Iain Bamforth
Even before the nineteenth century, there were travellers. There were even rich Englishmen doing the Grand Tour. And around the time of the French Revolution (or a little before it) feelings were let loose on the world too. Back in 1761, readers had swooned when they encountered the 'true voice of feeling' in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's novel La Nouvelle Héloïse; by the end of the decade, all of Europe was being sentimental in the manner made fashionable at the end of the same decade by Laurence Sterne in his A Sentimental Journey. Then there was Goethe's novella, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), which made its author a celebrity and resulted in a visit to Weimar - where Goethe eventually ended up working as a civil servant (and bitterly regretted his youthful work) - a must for anybody with cultural pretensions. Everybody came, including Napoleon, who reputedly carried a copy of the novel with him on his military campaigns.

And it was in Napoleon's entourage that a young man from Grenoble, Marie-Henri Beyle, known through his writing as Stendhal, earned his spurs. He made his first acquaintance with Italy in 1800, when he crossed as a dragoon in the army of liberation over the Grand Saint-Bernard pass to fight the Austrians, and it was to remain his country of predilection. And he 'fell', as he put it, with Napoleon in 1814. After the Treaty of Fontainebleau, he settled for a while in Milan, and later in life was to be ...


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