UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Les theories litteraires de Stendhal Pronger, Lester James


Introduction - This thesis attempts to formulate the literary theories of Stendhal, not so much by analysing his novels as by searching out and synthesizing his own remarks on the principles which guided him. The author has had access to the 79 volumes of the complete edition of Le Divan of Stendhal's works. By his literary ideas S. is fundamentally of the eighteenth century; his modernity and durability are due to the fact that he recognized and applied the most fecund literary principles of that century. Chapter I - La Relativlté du Beau -The ideas of Relativity and Progress, the two great contributions to aesthetics of the 18th century, are Stendhal's basic principles. There is no absolute form of beauty since taste varies according to race, climate and the level of progress of the age. Chapter II - Le Romanticisme - Since there is no absolute beauty each generation has the right to create the form of the beau which pleases it. In Italy Stendhal participates in the Romantic struggle and adopts the word Romanticisme to express his idea of modern beauty. He attempts to destroy the authority of Racine and discourage his imitators. Chapter III - La Tragédie romantique - Discusses Stendhal's ideas on the modern tragedy. The chapter is a summary of the essential doctrine of Racine et Shakespeare with the addition of all relevant material from his other writings. He helped the French Romantic poets to achieve their victory but when it took the form of the drame in verse he abandoned the theatre and concerned himself with the novel. Chapter IV - Le Roman - Stendhal's evolution from a writer of comedies to a novelist. He abandons the comedy on perceiving that the Revolution has destroyed the formerly uniform good taste of the public. The novel as a genre is free of rules. He sees it as a mirror which faithfully reflects contemporary times, particularly those aspects of it which are new and not hitherto found in literature. The chief aim of the novelist is to reflect the psychology of his period. The clarity and simplicity of his style is enforced on him by the obscurity of this subject matter. He adopts a concise, rapid style since he perceives that the tempo of the human intelligence is steadily accelerating. Because of the bad taste of his generation he writes only for the Happy Few who are intelligent, cultivated and sensitive, hoping thus to go down to posterity and be read "in 1935". To this end he creates a style which will not date or age. Deliberately and systematically he constructed his own immortality. Chapter V - Le Lecteur comme Créateur - From Fénelon he derives his manner of reflecting the "petits faits vrais" like a mirror, without suggesting to the reader the conclusion or emotion to be drawn from the facts. His style seems dry and without sentiment since he writes for the imaginative who are able to create their own emotion from these facts. By suggesting, rather than describing, he is a precursor of the Symbolists. However Diderot, in the eighteenth century, had already recognized the advantage of allowing the spectator to participate in the creation of the beau.

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