A Pair of Yellow Gloves

Tim Parks

  • Italian Chronicles by Stendhal, translated by Raymond MacKenzie
    Minnesota, 344 pp, £20.99, May, ISBN 978 1 5179 0011 3

There are so many Stendhals – art historian, music critic, travel writer, novelist, political pundit, opera buff, soldier, bureaucrat, diplomat, sparkling conversationalist and incorrigible womaniser – that the reader may despair of conceiving any overall project undertaken by the man baptised Marie-Henri Beyle in 1783. Aside from ‘Stendhal’ there were scores of pseudonyms, any number of unfinished writings and thousands of letters and journal pages in which Beyle often signs himself or even refers to himself using a variety of other names. Codes and red herrings abound. Major life plans appear and disappear at the drop of a hat. Ambitious novels or biographies are researched, half-written and abandoned. Stories and even essays never go where you expect. Digressions are the norm and, when not actually misleading, titles rarely say much about content. Of the book On Love the critic and Stendhal admirer Etienne-Jean Delécluze wondered whether the pages might have been bound in the wrong order.

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