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Stendhal. Journaux et papiers. Volume I: 1797-1804.

Stendhal. Journaux et papiers. Volume I: 1797-1804. Eds. Cecile Meynard, Helene de Jacquelot, and Marie-Rose Corredor. Grenoble: Ellug, 2013. Pp. 690.

"Rien." It has become de rigueur for history teachers to admonish their students not to "read too much" into Louis XVI's famously terse diary note of July 14, 1789. The entry does not, they groan, indicate the king's sense of the importance of the taking of the Bastille; it simply reveals that the day's hunt had not resulted in a kill and, as such, is historically uninteresting. The objection is unimaginative and probably misses the point of the abiding fascination of this one little word. For the frisson that one feels on reading it is not rooted in some self-satisfied sense of another's lack of political insight. It is, at least in part, an effect of pathos: as Mme de Stael put it in Delphine (in a phrase copied down by Henri Beyle in early 1803), "rien n'est plus touchant que l'ignorance d'un malheur deja arrive" (Stendhal 373). What Louis's rien underscores is the disjuncture between historical and personal time; the day of the storming of the Bastille was also the day, one of many, when the king's hunt was a letdown. This is what that day meant for him, though it can never be what it meant for us. Such is, to some extent, the interest of life writing: we read journals, notebooks, and correspondence as much for what they do not say about the events we now know--or think we know--are salient, as for what they do.

And yet ... that disjuncture is oddly extreme in the private writings of the young Henri Beyle, whose journals, notebooks, and diverse papiers appear here in a scrupulous--and voluminous--new edition by Cecile Meynard, Helene de Jacquelot, and Marie-Rose Corredor. For a writer whose mature fiction is dense with political allusions and whose repeated and ceremonious disavowals of political intent even the softest of readers recognizes as meaning precisely the opposite of what they say, Henri seems extraordinarily detached from the period's turbulent political history; while for a Frenchman whose life and mentalite were more than usually influenced by the legend of Napoleon Bonaparte, he has curiously little to say about the man of destiny's earliest years in power. In the 1981 Pleiade edition of Stendhal's OEuvres intimes, edited by Victor Del Litto, parliamentary sessions preceding Bonaparte's proclamation as emperor are alluded to without comment on page 72 (in a note dated May 1, 1804); on page 100, Stendhal transcribes an anecdote concerning Sieyes's alleged reaction to the execution of the due d'Enghien (which had occurred four months before the date of the relevant note, in March 1804), though again without adding any personal reaction. The organizational principle of this new edition, by contrast, postpones even these terse historical references to a later volume, and--despite expanding the space given to Stendhal's pre-Empire writings from Del Litto's 120 pages to a whopping 463--adds nothing else in this regard. One would search these pages in vain for some mention of 18 Brumaire or of the Constitution of Year VIII, or of the Napoleonic Wars--all events to which we feel the future Stendhal must, nevertheless, have paid some attention. No doubt the author's youth--the earliest texts transcribed here date from when he was only fourteen--accounts in some measure for these omissions. And of course, the omissions themselves may have things to teach us. Like the king's forlorn diary entry of July 14, indeed more so, they reveal the parallel unfolding of world history, on the one hand, and on the other, of a private life on which that history makes almost no immediate impression; more tendentiously, they might encourage us to reflect on the retroactive nature of political legends, including--perhaps especially--Napoleon's. Still, the absence of the political does require a certain adjustment of expectation on the reader's part, which merits a sort of mise en garde: abandon event-based history, all ye who enter here! Should you open these pages in hopes of learning what Stendhal wrote on such-and-such a momentous day, know in advance that the answer will be a resounding: rien.

In fact, this new edition of Stendhal's Journaux et papiers begins with its own mise en garde, which might well explain the preceding one. "Que le lecteur ne cherche pas ici son 'Journal de Stendhal,'" the editors warn in the first sentence of their introduction, "il ne pourra qu'etre perplexe devant ce qui lui est propose dans ces Journaux et papiers" (7). The readerly discombobulation imagined, rightly, in this opening gesture is due in large part to the significant difference in editorial philosophy between this edition and its many predecessors, a difference that is usefully explored by Meynard, Jacquelot, and Corredor in a thoughtful introduction. Earlier editions, they note, and in particular those of Del Litto and Henri Martineau (Pleiade, 1966), subject Stendhal's jottings to a double principle of thematic selection and chronological organization, the result of which is the famous "Journal de Stendhal"--a readily graspable and now familiar "text," and precisely the one the reader must not expect to find in this edition. Though Meynard et al. speak of the work of Del Litto and Martineau with obvious respect, their ecumenical tone belies a polemical point: namely, that there is no such thing as the "Journal de Stendhal." That text is an "illusion" (18), a mere gestalt emerging through the careful--and perhaps useful--selection and rearrangement of fundamentally inchoate raw material, according to priorities based, at least to some extent, on the purely inferential dating of individual documents, on the one hand, and on the a posteriori "mythologie" of beylisme (16), on the other.

The title of this new edition is therefore operative, the editors insist: Journaux et papiers, a double plural to reflect the heterogeneous array of documents presented within. This is, indeed, the first attempt to present in their entirety the vast collection of "papers" now in the possession of the city of Grenoble, large parts of which have never been published before. Despite the editors' reservations about spurious dating as an internal organizational principle, the overarching approach to the edition is inevitably chronological: this volume (the first of a planned four) covers the period from 1797 to 1804, the year when Henri Beyle came of legal age; subsequent volumes will cover 1804-6, 1806-14, and 1815-21. As readers of earlier editions know, the (imaginary) text commonly referred to as Stendhal's journal begins only in 1801 (when he was eighteen), and sure enough, the material presented here predating that year consists of hand-copied lessons in literature and composition from Henri's school days, as well as two page-long "anecdotes," both dating from 1797. What fills the hundreds of remaining pages, then, is a range of documents written concurrently with the more familiar journal, principally, it would seem, exercise books containing plans for literary undertakings of varying magnitude.

What, then, is the proper editorial principle for presenting such material, if an artificial internal chronology is to be eschewed? The editors' answer to this question is, intriguingly, to reiterate what it is not. "Il s'agit en effet de restituer le 'texte'--ou bien plutot le non-texte--d'origine" (21), we are told, before the editors outline (still in the negative) some principles that effectively repeat their earlier reproach to Del Litto and Martineau:
   Dans tous les cas, le choix essentiel de ces editions a ete de ne
   pas recomposer un ensemble de facon aleatoire, ni d'introduire un
   ordre arbitraire, mais de conserver l'aspect d'un chantier de
   materiaux parfois heterogenes. (21)

This may be fair enough as a policy, but to the extent that it rearticulates those earlier criticisms of the Pleiade editions, it also seems a little tendentious. After all, an editor's approach to his material may be artificial, contrived, and even flatly wrong, without being "aleatory" or "arbitrary." Quite the contrary, in fact: whatever the alleged defects of Del Litto's and Martineau's thematic-and-chronological approach, the result is both considered and eminently rational. The present editors shun such interventionism in favor of the newer editorial model adopted in recent editions of the notebooks of Soren Kierkegaard and Franz Kafka (Fayard; Payot), in which priority is given to the "unites physiques des manuscrits"--that is, to the literal reproduction of single physical documents (this sheet, that exercise book, the margins of this novel), even potentially "au detriment de la chronologie" (21). The reference to a verifiable physical reality as an organizing principle is, of course, difficult to argue with. Certainly, one can hardly call such an approach "arbitrary"--unless, that is, the documents themselves were constituted arbitrarily by the original author, with note x jotted down in copybook y for no other reason than that it was close to hand. Is an authorial arbitrariness less obnoxious than an editorial one? The question is worth asking, though Meynard et al., while acknowledging this risk, suggest that the Stendhalian "document" is also, conveniently, an "unite thematique," at least most of the time (23), and that therefore some underlying rationale exists within the various "supports" transcribed. In any case, their approach has obvious attractions. By limiting the editor's organizational role, and almost annihilating her selective role, it makes the work of editing fundamentally one of transcription and thus appears to promise a sort of unmediated access to the writer's original thought. What the text loses in comprehensibility, we might suppose, it gains in authenticity and fidelity.

Whether this is an acceptable trade-off will depend on the reader, and the introduction appears to concede that the approach will not be to everyone's taste. From the opening warning--"Que le lecteur ne cherche pas ici son 'Journal de Stendhal'"--to the acknowledgment that "le lecteur [peut] avoir a bon droit le sentiment de 'ne pas se retrouver' dans le texte" (28), via the frank admission that "l'ordre interne aux documents peut parfois sembler sujet a critique" (23), the editors acknowledge the possibility--or the likelihood--that the experience of reading these documents will be marked by a certain disorientation, even frustration. Certainly, the "chevauchements chronologiques" (23) required by the "physical" approach are confusing when set against the seductive linearity of the Del Litto edition. Perhaps more importantly, when neither the editor nor the author is making any selection at all--"je prends pour principe de ne pas me gener et de n'effacer jamais," Stendhal boasts (63)--the results can be wearisome. Journaux et papiers is, sure enough, very repetitive, with similar or identical observations, charts, tables, and so on reproduced multiple times: the reflection, no doubt, of authentic idees fixes on the part of the author, but ones that are not necessarily shared by the reader. To labor the point any more would be superfluous; clearly, the satisfaction of idle readerly curiosity is not the primary objective of this new edition. Its scholarly value, to the extent that it makes public previously unseen material, is undoubted--though this might surely have been augmented by the inclusion of an index (perhaps scheduled to appear in the final volume?). In any case, and all niceties aside, the edition does precisely what it is supposed to: confront the reader with the unedited, unrationalized immediacy of a (future) author's private thoughts.

So: what was Henri Beyle thinking about around the Year IX of Liberty? Not politics, at any rate, as we have seen. Nor--pace the Pleiade title--is there much here that seems especially "intimate." To be sure, the (pseudo-)journal begins promisingly enough: "J'entreprends d'ecrire l'histoire de ma vie jour par jour" (63), Henri writes, vaguely recalling Jean-Jacques's famous "Je forme une entreprise ..." Yet this sentence, the first of Del Litto's imaginary text but located seven pages into this new edition, is a poor description of what follows; even the very pages to which it is supposed to be a preface are scrappy, undeveloped as narrative, and, despite the promised sans-gene., unexpansive on the matter of the diarist's emotions. Though certainly not absent, moreover, amorous matters--the mainstay of so much early nineteenth-century life-writing, and which provide many of the most memorable moments of Vie de Henry Brulard--receive oddly short shrift in this period, even in Del Litto's edition, in which some frankly distasteful advice from a brother officer on the art of penetrating a woman is the sensational piece de resistance. The new edition's additional material treats us to a mirthlessly libertine chanson de geste relating a communal visit to a brothel--"Cons, culs, tetons, fesses, sont inondes de foutre" (89)--in the margin of which the author notes (whether proudly or apologetically is unclear): "Premiers vers que j'aie faits, f[aits] en trois heures" (88). Beyond this, there is little here that might provide access to a life, still less a private life; indeed, it is in the parts of the volume that most closely resemble a traditional journal that Stendhal appears paradoxically most absent.

What is here--and in huge amounts--is literature. Indeed, much of the new material presented in Journaux et papiers reads like a veritable limbo of unborn texts, many evidently worked on for months before they were abandoned. It is a truism that Stendhal had no real interest in the novel, longing instead to be a playwright. Yet one can still feel a moment's surprise when confronted with twenty pages proposing--seemingly in deadly earnest--a Hamlet, sometimes in verse, sometimes in prose (not to mention sometimes in Denmark, sometimes "en Pologne" ... [122]), or a page of notes for a possible Othello. There are plans for epic poetry, as well, notably a Pharsale that occupied Henri for some weeks in December 1802. Comedy looms largest, however. Readers of the "journal" may dimly remember a hypothetical five-acter by the name of Les Deux Hommes, mentioned only occasionally there, but occupying close to a hundred pages (and at least two years) here. What is most striking about all these texts--so many literalizations of Michel Charles's textes possibles, perhaps, though also in another sense manifestly impossible, and not just in hindsight--is their author's seeming reluctance to write them: instead, he plans them, endlessly, elaborating tables of characters, drawing up tableaux, distributing (imaginary) material between acts or chants, describing his intentions. In all the pages devoted to Les Deux Hommes, there are barely more than a handful of lines of dialogue. The aim, indeed, seems to be not quite to write but to reflect on the process--on the practice--of writing.

More precisely, then Journaux et papiers supplies the evidence of a long, self-imposed literary apprenticeship, the terms of which range from the genuinely intriguing to the disarmingly naive. The absolute certainty behind many of Stendhal's notes in this period is that literary greatness can be learned--though as the earliest new material included here reveals, such a conviction was partly encouraged by the pedagogical methods of the age. The volume closes with nearly a hundred pages of notes, Henri's transcriptions or summaries of Dubois Fontanelle's "Cours de belles lettres," which Henri attended at the Ecole centrale departementale de l'Isere in Year VI (1797-98). These notes, which evidently include some underlinings but very little by way of annotation, reflect a belletristic prescriptivism that appears to have had a double influence on Stendhal in the years up to 1804. On the one hand, his literary plans during that period ostentatiously shun the classical models preferred by the belletristic sensibility, in favor of what would soon become the darlings of the Romantic movement--Shakespeare, of course, but perhaps more importantly (here) Vittorio Alfieri. Yet on the other, the prescriptivism of Fontanelle's approach remains virtually unchallenged--with the exception that, rather than follow a master's axioms, Stendhal now sets about creating inductively a series of literary rules and principles based on the work of his heroes. This pursuit generates pages of lists and tables: of states of mind, of "habitudes morales," of "passions comiques," of natural and social relations, and so on, all presumably intended to conduce to what one note calls a "Methode d'invention"--a sort of mechanistic schema for producing dramatic tension (or comedy, or whatever). The text of that note gives a flavor of these passages:

Etant donne les caracteres d'un drame quelconque trouver l'intrigue ?

Le nombre des personnages rigoureusement necessaires p.r developper le caractere du protagoniste, et leurs caracteres etant donnes, soient A, B, C, D etc., ces personnages.

D'apres l'avant-scene que doit vouloir au commencement du i.r acte

A ?

B ?

C ?

D ? (373)

Some of these moments come close to a genuinely insightful, protostructuralist analysis of the design of literary texts; others, such as the one just quoted (with its emphasis on characters' "motivations") cannot but recall the dogmatism of the modern-day creative writing course and may well evoke the same degree of skepticism. Above all else, however, they engender a sense of acute irony: that Stendhal, the messiest, least rule-bound of novelists, should have spent so long and written so much in pursuit of some clearly phantasmic golden rule of literary perfection.

This pursuit accounts for large portions of the Journaux et papiers; the Del Litto edition, by contrast, gives almost no sense of its existence. To read these moments, then, is to see the extent to which earlier editions, in stabilizing the "text," also stabilized its author: the person who writes here, refracted through these many citations and imitations, seems desperately uncertain, unformed, and unconvinced of his own abilities. Indeed, if the predicament of the Stendhalian and Flaubertian hero is to combine acute self-consciousness with very limited self-knowledge, the young HB emerges here as a worthy prototype. Even Frederic Moreau, asking himself, "serieusement, s'il serait un grand peintre ou un grand poete" (Flaubert 69), might have blushed to write, as Stendhal does here: "Quelles sont les etudes les plus propres a me rendre bon poete epique ?" (235). We know the answer to that one, of course. The paradox of self-consciousness in these pages emerges even more acutely in what appears to be chronologically the latest note in the volume, an annotation of November 1804 added to an exercise book written more than a year earlier; there, Henri notes: "Je m'exhorte aujourd'hui d'apres ce que m'a dit La Rive et sa femme hier a oser etre naturel, a oser etre moi" (225). This self-apostrophe, inspired by another person--imitated, indeed, since the Del Litto edition of the "journal" for the same date records that "La Rive m'exhorte au naturel" (149)--anticipates, though certainly not consciously, the impossibility of "being oneself" that will emerge so clearly in Le Rouge et le Noir. The doubleness of this "moi," like the doubleness of Julien's rueful "je suis hypocrite avec moi-meme," renders it oddly empty; though Journaux et papiers is replete with tables listing all the possible human personalities and the various combinations in which they might be most dramatically productive, the one personality missing from these pages is Henri Beyle's. At some future point, we know, that absence will be covered by a persona: Stendhal. Until then, however, we are left with an inchoate mass of text--the trace of an extraordinary nobody. (ANDREW COUNTER, University of Oxford)

Works Cited

Flaubert, Gustave. L'Education sentimentale. Ed. S. de Sacy. Paris: Gallimard, "Folio," 1965.

Stendhal. OEuvres intimes. Ed. V. Del Litto. 2 vols. Paris: Gallimard, "Pleiade," 1981-82.
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Author:Counter, Andrew
Publication:The Romanic Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2014
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