Friday, March 7, 2008

Stendhal - I ask for my food

The NYRB edition of The Life of Henry Brulard - the old Penguin edition as well - ends with a separate 1840 document called "The Privileges". It begins "May GOD grant me the following letters patent:", and continues with a list of what we would now call super-powers. Some samples:

"ARTICLE 4:... The privilege-holder having a ring on his finger and squeezing that ring when looking at a woman, she will become passionately in love with him as we believe Héloïse was with Abelard.

ARTICLE 5: Good hair, excellent teeth, good skin never grazed. Faint, pleasing smell.

ARTICLE 10: When out shooting, eight times a year, a small flag will indicate to the privilege-holder, at a distance on one league, the game that exists and its exact position.

ARTICLE 16: The privilege-holder, wherever he may be, having said: 'I ask for my food,' will find: two pounds of bread, a beefsteak well done, a leg of lamb idem, a bottle of Saint-Julien, a carafe of water, one item of fruit, an ice-cream and a demi-tasse of coffee. This request will be answered twice in twenty-four hours."

Etc. Small sums of money, minimal physical pain, prowess in combat, the ability to turn into an animal. This is a strange piece of writing. I should point out that Stendhal wrote this when he was fifty-seven years old.

Nota Bene, in a comment, reasonably suggested that one could use Stendhal's memoirs to illuminate some of the more (some of the many!) perplexing aspects of his fictional characters. There are no shortage of parallels between young Henri Beyle and the fictional Julien Sorel and Fabrizio. But I'm having enough trouble understanding Stendhal himself (or "Stendhal"). Henry Brulard is a slippery book. I'll have to refer Nigel to Erich Auerbach's chapter on Stendhal in Mimesis and puzzle on the subject some more.


  1. HAD we but world enough, and time...Auerbach quotes Marvell at the start of Mimesis...I'll read the essay you mention, thanks.

    speaking of love...have you read On Love by Stendhal? It's dazzling. Especially his take on 'crystallization'

    Your blogging makes me want to go back to Henri. The Red and the Black is one of my very favourite novels. Haven't yet reached Charterhouse.

  2. Now "On Love", that book definitely helps explain some of the more obscure episodes in Stendhals' novels. Sometimes he seems to be dramtizing his ideas about love and "crystallization".

  3. This is pretty funny...makes me want to spend time with Stendhal, or Henri...

  4. I may have even left out some of the funniest ones - it's the fussiness that kills me, the "twice a day, four times a year" stuff. I mean, you don't want to ask GOD for anything unreasonable. Ther have to be limits.