The Duchess of Palliano - Stendhal - ebook

The Duchess of Palliano is a literary work written by Stendhal in 1838. The story is set in Rome between 1559 and 1561. Immediately after the election of Pope Paul IV (Gian Pietro Carafa) in 1555, arrived in Rome several members of the family Carafa; Pope encourages especially the children of his brother, the Count of Montorio: Don Giovanni becomes Duke of Paliano, Don Carlo is made a cardinal, Don Antonio is created Marquis of Montebello. The Pope entrusts them with the management of the state. The three brothers, however, will act as immoral and greedy despots.....

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The Duchess of Palliano



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Palermo, July 22nd, 1838.

I am nothing of a naturalist, I have only a very moderate acquaintance with the Greek language; my chief object in coming to visit Sicily has not been to observe the phenomena of Etna, nor to throw light, for my own or for other people’s benefit, on all that the old Greek writers have said about Sicily. I sought first of all the pleasure of the eyes, which is considerable in this strange land. It resembles Africa, or so people say; but what to my mind is quite certain is that it resembles Italy only in its devouring passions. The Sicilians are a race of whom one might well say that the word impossible does not exist for them once they are inflamed by love or by hatred, and hatred, in this fair land, never arises from any pecuniary interest.

I observe that in England, and above all in France, one often hears people speak of Italian passion, of the frenzied passion which was to be found in Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In our time, that noble passion is dead, quite dead, among the classes that have become infected with the desire to imitate French ways, and the modes of behaviour in fashion in Paris or in London.

I am well aware that I may be reminded that, from the time of Charles V (1530), Naples, Florence and Rome even were inclined to imitate Spanish ways; but were not these noble social customs based upon the boundless respect which every man worthy of the name ought to have for the motions of his own heart? Far from excluding emphasis, they exaggerated it, whereas the first maxim of the fats who imitated the Duc de Richelieu, round about 1760, was to appear moved by nothing. The maxim of the English dandies, whom they now copy at Naples in preference to the French fats, is it not to appear bored by everything, superior to everything?

Thus Italian passion has ceased to exist, for a century past, among the good society of that country.

In order to form some idea of this Italian passion, of which our novelists speak with such assurance, I have been obliged to turn to history; and even then the major histories, written by men of talent, and often too pompous, give us practically no details. They do not condescend to take note of the foolish actions except when these are committed by kings or princes. I have had recourse to the local history of each city; but I am appalled by the abundance of material. Every little town proudly offers you its history in three or four quarto volumes of print, and seven or eight volumes in manuscript; the latter almost undecipherable, teeming with abbreviations, giving unusual shapes to the letters, and, at the most interesting moments, crammed with forms of speech in use in the district but unintelligible twenty leagues away. For, in the whole of this fair land of Italy, whose surface love has sown with so many tragedies, three cities only, Florence, Siena and Rome, speak more or less as they write; everywhere else the written language is a hundred leagues apart from the spoken.

What is known as Italian passion, that is to say the passion that seeks its own satisfaction, and not to give one’s neighbour an enhanced idea of oneself, begins with the revival of society, in the twelfth century, and dies out, among people of refinement at least, about the year 1734. At this date the Bourbons ascend the throne of Naples in the person of Don Carlos, son of a Farnese heiress married as his second wife to Philip V, that melancholy grandson of Louis XIV, so intrepid amid shot and shell, so listless, and so passionately fond of music. We know that for twenty-four years the sublime eunuch Farinelli sang to him every day three favourite airs, which never varied.

A philosophic mind may find something curious in the details of a passion as felt in Rome or Naples, but I must say that nothing seems to me more absurd than those novels that give Italian names to their characters. Are we not all agreed that passions alter whenever we move a hundred leagues farther north? Is love the same thing at Marseilles as in Paris? At most, we may say that countries which have long been subjected to the same form of government shew a sort of outward similarity in their social customs.

Scenery, like passions and music, changes also whenever we move three or four degrees farther north. A Neapolitan landscape would seem absurd in Venetia, were there not a convention, even in Italy, to admire the fine works of nature round Naples. In Paris, we go one better, we imagine that the appearance of the forests and tilled plains is absolutely the same round Naples as round Venice, and would like Canaletto, for instance, to use absolutely the same colours as Salvator Rosa.

But the crowning absurdity, surely, is an English lady endowed with all the perfections of her Island, but considered not to be in a position to portray hatred and love, even in that Island: Mrs. Anne Radcliffe giving Italian names and grand passions to the characters of her celebrated novel: