The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal, Limited Editions Club (1955)

Marie-Henri Beyle (1783-1842), better known by his nom de plume Stendhal, is one of the greatest french novelists of all time.  Because he wrote what is considered realism during a period when Romantic works were popular, he was initially not well appreciated by his contemporaries.  While it took to the early parts of the twentieth century for a full appreciation of Stendhal to take hold, his stock had previously been rising steadily for decades beginning when the great French novelist Honoré de Balzac effusively praised Stendhal and The Charterhouse of Parma in 1840. Balzac wrote:

The Charterhouse of Parma, to my eyes, is in our epoch the masterpiece of the literature of ideas….after the third reading of this book, a reading slow and reflective, I still find this work extraordinary. M. Beyle has written a book in which the sublime bursts out in chapter after chapter.

Balzac’s essay about Stendhal and The Charterhouse of Parma is included as the introduction to this edition from the Limited Editions Club (LEC). In this essay, he writes:

I must leave to you the pleasure of reading the admirable details of this continuous web in which the author drives a hundred characters abreast, without being more embarrassed than a skillful coachman is by the reins of a team of ten horses. Everything is in its place, there is not the slightest confusion. You see everything, the city and the court. The drama is bewildering in its skill, its execution, its clarity. The atmosphere plays over the whole scene; not a character is idle.

The Monthly Letter (ML) of the LEC associated with this editions says:

Basing his own story upon old Italian stories of violent passion, Stendhal had produced a work of profound originality in which the analysis of the passions, and the exploration of the characters, were pushed to what was then a new degree of psychological depth.

The Charterhouse of Parma is full of court intrigue, politics, adventure and romantic suspense. What really sets it apart from other novels of that time, as referred to in the ML, is its extensive exploration of human nature and psychology. The importance of this style is hard to overstate. Even Friedrich Nietzsche, in his Beyond Good and Evil, refers to Stendhal as a “great psychologist.” Stendhal’s work would go on to influence many major authors that followed, most clearly Tolstoy. I read this work for this first time this summer, and will say that it made a couple very long plane rides go very quickly. It is engrossing, and the praise lavished on it is very deserved. While I have not read other translations of this work, the LEC edition with the translation of Lady Mary Loyd, revised for this edition by noted novelist and critic Robert Cantwell, is clearly well done and a pleasure to read.

This edition from the LEC, from 1955, while not overly fancy and ‘crazy awesome’, is one finely done edition. The binding is especially nice with rough imported linen stamped with the title in brown leaf, and with the sides of the boards covered with a hand-made French paper marbled in varying hues of brown. Very attractive and apropos to the spirit of the work itself. The monotype Cochin has a bit of a French flair, easy and pleasing to the eye. The rag paper is not overly special, but is certainly high quality and nice to the touch and to the eye. The large square octavo format is easy to hold and read, especially considering the length of the work. Balzac’s introductory essay is a real treat in its depth of the subject. Lastly, the narrative based illustrations, original lithographs, drawn in two colors by Rafaello Busoni, are complementary to the story without overwhelming it.

In 1945, Rafaello Busoni was one of five artists, of over 300, who won a prize in the LEC’s Third Competition for Book Illustrators, a competition done by LEC to find artists who had “not previously harnessed their talents to the discipline of book illustration.” He was awarded for illustrations he submitted for Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, which the LEC ended up publishing in 1947. For The Charterhouse of Parma, the ML tells us:

He has made forty lithographs, each in two colors, drawing each color separately with his lithographic pencil. Into them, he has put a dramatic intensity and an emotional byplay which would have delighted the author of the book for which these lithographs are illustrations.

The realism of the illustrations match the spirit of the story and the execution is flawless, though I must say they do not ‘wow’ me. I like them. I just do not love them. In any case, holistically the book is fantastic, especially considering you can find near fine or better copies for $60 or so. Anywhere near that price, a book of this stature in the Western Canon, with this quality of production, belongs in your collection.

About the Edition

  • Introduction by Honoré de Balzac
  • Translation by Lady Mary Loyd, revised for this edition by Robert Cantwell
  • The illustrations are original lithographs, drawn in two colors by Rafaello Busoni and printed by the Reehl Lithograph Company
  • Type is monotype Cochin, composed at the Printing House of Leo Hart
  • Printed on a rag paper specially manufactured for this edition by Curtis Paper Company
  • Binding, done by Frank Daniel Fortney, is rough imported linen stamped with the title in brown leaf, and with the sides of the boards covered with a hand-made French paper marbled in varying hues of brown
  • Large square octavo, 7″ x 10 1/4″, 448 pages
  • Limited to 1500 copies, signed by Rafaello Busoni

Pictures of the Edition

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The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Spine and Covers
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Marbled Paper Cover
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Marbled Paper Cover
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Side View (speckled edges)
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Frontispiece and Title Page
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Frontispiece
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Sample Text #1 (Introduction)
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #6 with Text
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #7 with Text
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Colophon
The Charterhouse of Parma, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

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