The Chartreuse of Parma AUTHOR’S INTRODUCTION

This novel was written in the year 1830, in a place some three hundred leagues from Paris. Many years before that, when our armies were pouring across Europe, I chanced to be billeted in the house of a canon. It was at Padua—a fortunate city, where, as in Venice, men’s pleasure is their chief business, and leaves them little time for anger with their neighbours. My stay was of some duration, and a friendship sprang up between the canon and myself.

Passing through Padua again, in 1830, I hurried to the good canon’s house. He was dead, I knew, but I had set my heart on looking once more upon the room in which we had spent many a pleasant evening, sadly remembered in later days. I found the canon’s nephew, and his wife, who both received me like an old friend. A few acquaintances dropped in, and the party did not break up till a late hour. The nephew had an excellent sambaglione fetched from the Café Pedrocchi. But what especially caused us to linger was the story of the Duchess Sanseverina, to which some chance allusion was made, and the whole of which the nephew was good enough to relate, for my benefit.

“In the country whither I am bound,” said I to my friends, “I am very unlikely to find a house like this one. To while away the long evenings I will write a novel on the life of your charming Duchess Sanseverina. I will follow in the steps of that old story-teller of yours, Bandello, Bishop of Agen, who would have thought it a crime to overlook the true incidents of his tale, or add others to it.”

“In that case,” quoth the nephew, “I will lend you my uncle’s diaries. Under the head of Parma he mentions some of the court intrigues of that place, at the period when the influence of the duchess was supreme. But beware! it is anything but a moral tale, and now that you French people pique yourselves on your Gospel purity, it may earn you a highly criminal reputation.”

I send forth my novel without having made any change in the manuscript written in 1830. This course may present two drawbacks:

The first affects the reader. The characters, being Italian, may not interest him, for the hearts and souls of that nation are very different from the hearts and souls of Frenchmen. The Italians are a sincere and worthy folk, who, except when they are offended, say what they think. Vanity only attacks them in fits. Then it becomes a passion, and is known as puntiglio. And, further, among this nation poverty is not considered a cause of ridicule.

The second drawback is connected with the author.

I will avow that I have been bold enough to leave my personages in possession of the natural roughnesses of their various characters. But to atone for this—and I proclaim it loudly—I cast blame of the most highly moral nature upon many of their actions. Where would be the use of my endowing them with the high morality and pleasing charm of the French, who love money above every other thing, and are seldom led into sin either by love or hate? The Italians of my novel are of a very different stamp. And, indeed, it appears to me that every stage of six hundred miles northward from the regions of the South brings us to a different landscape, and to a different kind of novel. The old canon’s charming niece had known the duchess, and had even been very much attached to her. She has begged me not to alter anything concerning these adventures of her friend, which are certainly open to censure.

January 23, 1839.