Thursday, 20 September 2018

Stendhal’s Passages on Battle of Waterloo

The passages on the battle of Waterloo, narrated from the perspective of the young Italian aristocrat Fabrizio Del Dongo who is in search of his life’s purpose, are the most interesting elements in Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma. Fabrizio is an idealist, he is inspired by Napoleon, but he is untrained in the arts of war. He tries to be brave in the front, but instead of displaying valor he ends up getting drunk and sleeping through much of the battle.

Here’s an excerpt from Stendhal’s battle of Waterloo scene:

But the din at that moment became so terrific that Fabrizio could not answer him. We must admit that our hero was very little of a hero at that moment. However, fear came to him only as a secondary consideration; he was principally shocked by the noise, which hurt his ears. The escort broke into a gallop; they crossed a large batch of tilled land which lay beyond the canal. And this field was strewn with dead.

“Red-coats! red-coats!” the hussars of the escort exclaimed joyfully, and at first Fabrizio did not understand; then he noticed that as a matter of fact almost all these bodies wore red uniforms. One detail made him shudder with horror; he observed that many of these unfortunate red-coats were still alive; they were calling out, evidently asking for help, and no one stopped to give it them. Our hero, being most humane, took every possible care that his horse should not tread upon any of the red-coats. The escort halted; Fabrizio, who was not paying sufficient attention to his military duty, galloped on, his eyes fixed on a wounded wretch in front of him.

“Will you halt, you young fool!” the serjeant shouted after him. Fabrizio discovered that he was twenty paces on the generals’ right front, and precisely in the direction in which they were gazing through their glasses. As he came back to take his place behind the other hussars, who had halted a few paces in rear of them, he noticed the biggest of these generals, who was speaking to his neighbour, a general also, in a tone of authority and almost of reprimand; he was swearing. Fabrizio could not contain his curiosity; and, in spite of the warning not to speak, given him by his friend the gaoler’s wife, he composed a short sentence in good French, quite correct, and said to his neighbour:

“Who is that general who is chewing up the one next to him?”

“Gad, it’s the Marshal!”

“What Marshal?”

“Marshal Ney, you fool! I say, where have you been serving?”

Fabrizio, although highly susceptible, had no thought of resenting this insult; he was studying, lost in childish admiration, the famous Prince de la Moskowa, the “Bravest of the Brave.”

Suddenly they all moved off at full gallop. A few minutes later Fabrizio saw, twenty paces ahead of him, a ploughed field the surface of which was moving in a singular fashion. The furrows were full of water and the soil, very damp, which formed the ridges between these furrows kept flying off in little black lumps three or four feet into the air. Fabrizio noticed as he passed this curious effect; then his thoughts turned to dreaming of the Marshal and his glory. He heard a sharp cry close to him; two hussars fell struck by shot; and, when he looked back at them, they were already twenty paces behind the escort. What seemed to him horrible was a horse streaming with blood that was struggling on the ploughed land, its hooves caught in its own entrails; it was trying to follow the others: its blood ran down into the mire.

“Ah! So I am under fire at last!” he said to himself. “I have seen shots fired!” he repeated with a sense of satisfaction. “Now I am a real soldier.” At that moment, the escort began to go hell for leather, and our hero realised that it was shot from the guns that was making the earth fly up all round him. He looked vainly in the direction from which the balls were coming, he saw the white smoke of the battery at an enormous distance, and, in the thick of the steady and continuous rumble produced by the artillery fire, he seemed to hear shots discharged much closer at hand: he could not understand in the least what was happening.

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