The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal offers us an in-depth insight to the genuine sense of human nature. This psychological romantic thriller provokes inner suspense within a reader making everyone reassess our true values. Like many of us, Fabrizzeo wants to be honorable but actually he’s not. Through his protagonist Stendhal appeals to the inner self of each reader.
A beautifully crafted novel shows how love and politics are impaired within the realities of Napoleonic society. The perceptive and handsome young man Fabrizzeo from Parma ultimately strives to find love. Through Fabrizzeo’s growth Stendhal shows us his moral development from an ingenuous child to a passionate man who seeks nothing but love. He initially refuses to join the Parmian court and increase his societal power in such a way. Instead his passionate devotion to Clelia entirely prevails over any other ambitions. In such a way Stendhal emphasizes that one’s incomparable happiness is altogether socially damaging, though remains the only possible option for someone who is so devoted to inner passion even up to the point of premature death.
Before joining Napoleon’s army, Fabrizzeo appears as fanatically religious man, though yet deprived of the full sense of morality. The contemplative and dreamy side of his nature made him pious. By clearly distinguishing right from wrong, the prospect of war seems greatly intriguing to him: “War was then no longer this noble and unified outburst of souls in love with glory that he had imagined from Napoleon’s proclamations” (Stendhal, 1839, Chapter 3).
So far he had not seen the true world beyond the rosy reality of his family’s posh residence where he was entirely engaged in reading and day-dreaming. As a result, he mistakenly considers joining the Napoleon’s army as a splendid opportunity to begin grand and beautiful life. However, the realities of war had utterly disproved these false expectations. Blood, deaths, unfairness, betrayal, reliance on others, and lack of courage at the Waterloo had altogether made Fabrizzeo reconsider his true value as a man from inside.
Eventually, the Waterloo had not made a real man out of him and so he remained only slightly less naive. This is proven through his further philandering and nonplussed affections for Gina accompanied by false love pretenses. Shortly Fabrizzeo realized that he had only admired Gina: “The pleasures and the cares of the luckiest ambition, even of limitless power, are nothing next to the intimate happiness that tenderness and love give. I am man before being a prince, and when I have the good fortune to be in love, my mistress addresses a man and not a prince” (Stendhal, 1839, Chapter 7).
While following the love quest, he eventually seduces the opera singer Fausta, though nonetheless does not feel true love for her. Despite all his romantic endeavors, he eventually fails to falsely pretend a sense of true love. After his defeat with Fausta, he once again attempts to get along with Gina. Again he gets disappointed and fails to boost romantic love for Gina, Conte Mosca, Marietta or any other woman.
Further personal failure occurs when Fabrizzeo intends to obtain a high status within the church. After Gina and Conte Mosca prompted him to become an archbishop, he sheepishly obeyed. He considers the position as an opportunity to raise his political status and get access to various social opportunities. The career however contradicts with his inner traits of pensiveness and sensitiveness, though he nonetheless joins because of the sense of obligation before Conte Mosca and Gina. By striving to gain favor with the church, Fabrizzeo entirely relies on Conte Mosca and Gina for their support and guidance. This means he had not yet become morally mature and not ready to come up with his own judgments. As a result, he could not refuse the opportunity of becoming an archbishop and living a life without the politics which he so much despised. At this point his social status clearly contravenes with his inner feelings. In other words, social artificiality of existence deprives him of being himself: Were I to buy this life of pleasure and this only chance at happiness with a few little dangers, where would be the harm? And wouldn’t it still be fortunate to find a weak excuse to give her proof of my love? (Stendhal, 1839, Chapter 20).
When he reaches prison he discovers his genuine love for Clelia that is truly noble and spiritual love. And this exact feeling makes him a full-fledged moral being. From now on, his true self gradually emerges while he starts to realize the insignificance of the previous stage of his life. Only in prison he realizes his true devotion to Clelia as this is the only place where he can imaginatively still see her. By assuming that he is imprisoned for the rest of his life he internally struggles with his genuine feelings. And only here these feelings are genuine. In his thoughts he refuses to return to Parma and ever see Clelia again. He realizes that their love is the reminiscent of courtly feeling to each other. Only in prison he had got overwhelmed with a true affection for Clelia and through this transformation Stendhal emphasizes on moral maturity of each of us. We cannot fully comprehend the value of inner feelings in comfortable reality of life. Our inner sense should pass through trials and hardships to genuinely value the things besides familiar existence. Even though Stendhal depicts Fabrizzeo as literally imprisoned, at this point he shows that in the prison he had become morally (spiritually) freer than ever before. As a prisoner he is not distracted by the realities of life. He is now fully devoted to spiritual closeness with Clelia. Once he leaves the prison, Fabrizzeo gets to know she got married to other man. Eventually, he manages to convince her that they can still be lovers, though she is able to receive him only at night and such a strange reality further makes their bond grow stronger. The limited time spent with her as well as his worship for her leads him to the point of transcendence. Now he is never concerned about his reputation and status and deprives the Parmian court. Ultimately the author emphasizes that his imaginative thoughts of being with Clelia is what actually keeps him alive. Perhaps, he was destined to become a politician or a war hero, though instead he tragically lived his entire life in vain just to die happily with his ever admired Clelia.
Through this emotional story Stendhal intends to teach us and make us think about the eternal yet undiscovered questions. He addresses core metaphysical ponderings about human’s purpose on earth, the very purpose to life and the way we may discover it. Fabrizzeo failed to find his true purpose in life, though he managed to experience the full range of genuine human emotion. He did not live the right way in conventional sense, though he actually did it more fully compared to anyone of us.
- Stendhal (1839) Charterhouse of Parma, Penguin Classics; Revised edition, 2007.