Public DomainStendhal

Stendhal is the pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle (1783-1842), a French writer who could be regarded as a romantic precursor and probable inspiration for Kundera. Regarded as one of the first practitioners of realism, he is best known for his novels The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma, and for the book-length essay On Love.

Although Stendhal surfaces in Unbearable Lightness as little more than a passing reference at a party in which Franz’s wife Marie-Claude is depicted holding forth and tossing out dictatorial opinions (“No, no, you’re wrong! … Stendhal is a night author!”), he’s an appropriate touchstone in a novel about an inveterate womanizer (Tomas) because Stendhal himself was a dandy and a womanizer. To judge by his books, he was genuinely empathetic toward women, but also obsessive about his sexual conquests, which makes him very similar to Tomas.

This portrait of Stendhal, done in 1840 when he would have been 57, was painted by Johan Olaf Sodemark (1790-1848).

Also in common with Kundera, Stendhal was a serious fan of music, one of his favorites being his contemporary Rossini, who is mentioned on the next page of Unbearable Lightness.