Nineteenth-Century French Studies 23.3-4 (1995): 529-530
Talbot, Emile J. Stendhal Revisited. Twayne's World
Authors Series. New York: Twayne
Publishers, 1993. Pp. xiv + 171.$22.95. ISBN 0-8057-82-5.
[Reprinted with permission of Nineteenth-Century French Studies]
Although books in the TWA series may have the reputation, in some quarters, of providing concision at the cost of superficiality, they nonetheless play an important role in our libraries and literary programs, particularly undergraduate. For these books so often are the first contact that students have with literary criticism and, is such, can offer crucial orientation for the students' further understanding and future readings of selected authors' literary works. It is therefore impressive that the TWAS is committed to updating the series' key works, and Emile Talbot's study provides a fine example of an overview drawing skillfully from an array of specialists, but one that is also readily accessible to a much broader audience.
While Marcel Gutwirth's initial TWAS study (1971) made a valuable contribution, its research necessarily was unable to offer any secondary references informed by analyses developed from and beyond structurahst criticism. Talbot avails himself both of some more recent translations (all citations of primary texts are in English) and, while one could quib ble about omissions in the secondary references, I suspect that the TWAS format required a strict selection. Thus, in a limited annotated bibliography, Talbot eschews references to any secondary works pre-dating 1968, while including a full range of references in his judiciously chosen chapter notes. Talbot also wisely maintains Gutwirth's limitation to Stendhal's literary and autobiographical writing (again, TWAS oblige, no doubt), but rather than follow the earlier thematic organization, Talbot provides an introductory glimpse at "The Man and the Writer" and then focuses the successive seven chapters on each novel as well as the short fiction and La Vie de Henry Brulard.
The opening chapter is remarkable for its clarity, and while it must necessarily sacrifice much detail regarding Stendhal's non-fictional works, Talbot succeeds in succinctly situating the achievements of the writer within the plot of "the man," particularly translating the turbulent pursuit of adventure, career and, above all, love throughout his life. Each chapter, particularly those focusing on the novels, provides a jewel of critical insight that
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draws upon secondary research, but without sacrificing Talbot's own particular understanding of the work. Indeed, the study of Armance is a revised version of Talbot's seminal French Forum artide (3.2 [19781 147-58) and, for this reader, has long constituted an essential guide for understanding Stendhal's peculiar first novel. Without entering into a process of meta-summary and meta-critique, I wish to emphasize what makes Talbot's book so special: first, it is evidently the work of someone who knows the Stendhalian oeuvre intimately, and Talbot's generous sharing of the knowledge gleaned during his career manifests not only his careful research, but also a passion for teaching.
Second, given the likely non-specialist audience, each chapter provides precise insights for understanding three facets of the target books: how Stendhal situates his fiction within a political context, sometimes historical (e.g. the Chroniques italiennes and La Chartreuse de Parme), usually contemporary (Armance, Le Rouge et le Noir, Lucien Leuwen, and Lamiel); how he uses the fictional form at once to implicate the reader in the play of wtiting and to communicate an idiosyncratic sense of the possibilities of realism; and how he favors development of strong characterizations often at the risk of apparent incoherency of plot. Indeed, Talbot makes evident that the traits of self-interrogation shared by all the main protagonists are also evident in Stendhal's autobiographical works, and it is precisely in those works failing to foreground the personal quest (e.g. some short fiction, several of the Chroniques) that Stendhal's fiction suffers most. Yet, Talbot reveals the coherence of Stendhal's fictional oeuvre without reducing the specific thematic and narrative import of each novel to a false unity. Through its ftesh critical insights and thorough research, Talbot's study thus will be valuable to undergraduate and graduate programs alike, especially in courses on French literature in translation, and thus stands as a necessary addition to all library collections.
Wayne State University Charles J. Stivale