In 1818, when he was in his mid-thirties, Stendhal met and fell passionately in love with the beautiful Mathilde Dembowski. She, however, was quick to make it clear that she did not return his affections, and in his despair he turned to the written word to exorcise his love and explain his feelings. The result is an intensely personal dissection of the process of falling - and being - in love- a unique blend of poetry, anecdote, philosophy, psychology and social observation. Bringing together the conflicting sides of his nature, the deeply emotional and the coolly analytical, Stendhal created a work that is both acutely personal and universally applicable.
Earlier, in 1822, after an unhappy love affair, Stendhal published his book On Love (De l'Amour), unlike his later novels, a rather dry summing up of what Love really is. This is necessary, he claims, in order to present his findings in a dispassionate and objective way.
Stendhal distinguishes four species of love in this book - the physical, the refined, love from vanity, and love from passion (the only one worthwhile). One type of love may change into another.
Sophie Lewis did an excellent translation for the Hesperus Press in 2009.
Reputedly, the book was based on the psychology of Destutt de Tracy.
I call "crystallization" that action of the mind that discovers fresh perfections in its beloved at every turn of events. (ch. I)
In love, unlike most other passions, the recollection of what you have had and lost is always better than what you can hope for in the future. (ch. I)
First of all, I’d like to say something about the edition that Hesperus was kind enough to send me. This is a high quality paperback. Nice thick covers that fold over in the front and the back and can be used as a bookmarker if you so choose. Good quality paper that is not so transparent as to be distracting, copious footnotes and endnotes. Hesperus Press, as suggested by the Latin motto 'Et Remotissima Prope', is committed to bringing near what is far - far both in space and time. Works written by the greatest authors, and unjustly neglected or simply little known in the English-speaking world, are made accessible through new translations and a completely fresh editorial approach. Through these classic works, the reader is introduced to the greatest writers from all times and cultures. This is book is apparently part of their “on” series…I would certainly buy their editions over the usual paperbacks you see on the market these days.
I really liked this book and the way Stendhal broke up love into four different types: Passionate love, mannered love, physical love, and vain love. Physical love is where we all start around our teens. We may move on to experience the other types of love at different times in our life, although I don’t think Vain Love, or what I call “arm candy style” love, is one I hope I never succumb to. He further describes seven states of love: admiration, increasingly thinking about the person, hope, the birth of love, the first crystallization, the appearance of doubts, and the second crystallization.
The crystallization process is very interesting in and of itself. This is the process of “beautifying” and covering up the faults and slights of our lover with exaggerations and emphasis of their charms. I believe it’s called “spin” in our times! But it’s not necessarily a bad think in the case of love, as Stendhal goes on to describe in detail. He calls it the “beautification of a loved one in the act of loving”.
Stendhal was a lover of love and a lover of women. Grayling calls him a feminist in that he believed that “the encounter with the feminine in the special circumstances of courtship is valuable in itself, one of the life-enhancing experiences.” He goes on to state that the task of writing about love fully and coherently is difficult if not impossible.
Some of my favorite quotes:
'Indeed, half - the most beautiful half - of life is hidden from one who has not loved passionately'
'If both are perfectly at ease, the happiness of two individuals ends by melting into one. Thanks to affinities and other laws of human nature, this is quite simply the greatest happiness we can wish for.'
'There are some moments with one's beloved that the imagination never tires of replaying and embellishing. This is what makes it so difficult to forget a woman with whom one has found happiness.'
'Besides, there cannot be ingratitude in love: the pleasure of the moment always seems to reward even the greatest sacrifices. The greatest mistake, in my opinion, is lack of honesty, for a lover ought simply to show his true feelings.'
'The difference between the meanings of unfaithfulness for the two sexes is so great that a woman in love may pardon an infidelity... Here is an authoritative rule for distinguishing truly passionate love from that founded on 'pique': for women, infidelity will practically destroy the one but will strengthen the other.'
'It seems to me that the entire art of love comes down to saying exactly what the current moment's degree of intoxication requires; in other words, it is all about listening to your heart. Of course, that is easier said than done.'
This book is a explanation of love by exhausting just about every angle and sub-topic that could be thought of. Of course in the early 19th century, the Scientific Revolution was well underway. Just like any other scholarly work, the author wants to tip his hat to all the earlier authorities, some well-known, some quite obscure, who have written on this subject. Therfore, be prepared for numerous quotes throughout the text.
I estimate that if this had been written in the 21st Century, it would probably come out as a how-to book, such as "How to Be Successful in Love," or some other such title. Of course anyone who has been in a bookstore has seen examples of this type of book, some of which boil down to a crash course on "How to Score with Chicks."
But really, after all, above is a false assumption that I have thrown into the ring. The author only says in the very first page that "I am trying to understand this passion, all of the truest forms of which are characterised by beauty." (page 3.)
Personally, I am not currently so interested in a practical knowledge of how to find a lover that could be gained directly by reading the book. Instead, I like to read one of the quotes Stendhal gives from a novel, and then see how the ensuing discussion reflects on it.
For example, I would love to know what Stendhal thought of Sir Walter Scott. Indirectly, I can do so indirectly by the following two steps. First, read his excerpt from Ivanhoe on page 66, Chapter XXIX (On Feminine Courage): "I tell thee, proud templar, that not in thy fiercest battles hadst thou displayed more of thy vaunted courage, than has been shewn by woman when called upon to suffer by affection or duty."
Second, by reading the comments on page 67, it is great to be able to remember back to some of the characters in The Red and the Black, and discover that the author's world-view is consistent in both citations.
Yes, reader, if you enjoy reading about "Love", and how many great novels are not about love in one way or another, this is a great way to take a break from novels, and see how one of the world's greatest love-novel authors gave us the inside track to finding more about his thoughts and research from which his novels eventually spung.
Love being so strongly and universally felt, it is easy to understand how difficult it would be to write down exactly what love is. And so while enjoyable to read from the standpoint of being relating, the book is also incomplete, fleeting, and sometimes arbitrary in its discussions. And yet, that is exactly how we all experience it.
"Many husbands ensure long years of a loving marriage simply by taking a little mistress two months after the wedding."
The Hesperus volume has a strong cover (all of their volumes I have received have been very well built), extended flaps that can serve as bookmarks, is well annotated (provdes great contextual information) and has a good Foreword by AC Grayling setting the stage for the volume.