Don’t be confused but Pierre Ryckmans, whose pen-name is Simon Leys (The Death of Napoleon, The Wreck of the Batavia and Prosper), has written about 19th-century novelist Henri Beyle, whose pen-name was Stendhal.

Indeed, Stendhal was such a fan of the pen-name that, according to one Beylist, he used over 350 different, rather inventive signatures, including Le Chinois (The Chinaman) and Cornichon (Gherkin).

Best known for his novels La Chartreuse de Parme and Le Rouge et le Noir, Stendhal was highly entertaining, suffered from seasickness, was a great romantic and womaniser, liked Shakespeare, held maxims dear — “never exaggerate the quality of a joy you do not have” — and couldn’t stand being bored. Aged just 17, he served as a cavalry officer at Napoleon’s headquarters during the 1812 Russian campaign.

Two annotated texts are presented in English for the first time, lovingly translated by Leys. The first is a controversial tribute written by Stendhal’s friend Prosper Mérimée and the second is a ‘wish list’ by Stendhal, including the magical powers he desires.

Illuminating appendices in With Stendhal include notes by Leys on Stendhal and Mérimée, recommended reading and George Sand’s A River-Boat Journey in Beyle’s Company. This is a charming, nostalgic journey into a lost world.

*This review first appeared on Bookseller+Publisher magazine’s Fancy Goods blog.

Peter Fray

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