It is a long time since I wrote my last article on celebrity impressions about Milan. Today I would like to say something about a French author named Henri Beyle, better known as Stendhal.
Who was Stendhal?
Stendhal was one of the major romantic French writers. His finest novels probably are Le Rouge et le noir (1830; The Red and the Black) and La Chartreuse de Parme (1839; The Charterhouse of Parma).
He was born in Grenoble, southeast France, in 1783 in a well to do family. According to Stendhal, his mother was a cheerful and cultured woman; she could speak Italian and read the original
version of Dante’s divine comedy. Unfortunately, she died when Henri was only seven. His father was a lawyer interested in making money (this is how Stendhal describes him); father and son did not go very well together in simple terms. As soon as Henri could, he left his family.
In 1799, he left Grenoble and went to Paris. The official reason was to study mathematics, but his intimate ambition was to become a writer and, most of all, escape his father’s rules. Once in Paris, he changed his plans; he never entered the École Polytechnique and never graduated in math. After a “sabbatical period” of about 6 months, in 1800, thanks to highly placed relatives of his, he joined Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. He became a second lieutenant destined for Milan.
His impressions about Milan:
In Milan, the shy young officer Heri Beyle discovered the delights of the city and love. Two years later, his administrative career in the French army grew dramatically. This made him leaving Italy and travelling to Germany and Austria.
When in 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte fell, Stendhal’s military career ended. He decided to take up residence in Milan. He became friends with the local liberals’ intellectuals, studied music, visual art, and fell in love with Métilde Dembowski, who rejected him.
In 1821, due to his political friendships that compromised him in the Austrian occupying authorities’ eyes, Stendhal had to leave Milan and never came back.
In his letters and memories, he very often describes Milan with admiration. Thanks to Stendhal, we know that the Carnival parties arranged by the La Scala Opera House were never-ending and fabulous, that the Milanese Ladies were beautiful and elegant. According to Stendhal, the noble residences looked simple from the outside but opulent inside.
Even though he never came back to Milan, Stendhal never forgot the city. On his tombstone, in the cemetery of Montmartre in Paris, in fact, one can read a sentence in Italian saying: “Arrigo Beyle Milanese, scrisse, amò, vissè” (The Milanese Henri Beyle wrote, loved, lived). He died on 23rd March 1849.
Milan has certainly changed in its appearance since Stendhal first saw it but, I am sure that if he came back, he would still feel at ease here. What about visiting Milan together and discovering the favourite places of the French writer Stendhal? I wait for you!