The XIXth Century Depiction of Mental Illness

These solemn sounds affected julien his imagination

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These solemn sounds affected Julien. His imagination was no longer turned to 4 A Realistic detail in Stendhal’s depiction of the Byronic hero, an image of Romanticism.
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things earthly. The perfume of the incense and of the rose leaves thrown before the holy sacrament by little children disguised as St. John increased his exaltation” (200). The synesthetic experience following from the smell of the rose leaves, and the sound of the bell, throws Julien into a fit of exaltation. Unlike Byron and Goethe, Stendhal infuses Realism into the underlying depiction of his Byronic hero’s ambivalence towards Mother Nature; the reader is constantly aware of Julien’s psyche through an inner narrative. This depiction of inner narrative, and general depiction of Julien’s neurological state, Stendhal alludes to a new, non-superficial ideal of illness: “Who could not possibly guess that beneath this girlish fash, so pale and so sweet, lurked the unbreakable resolution to risk a thousand deaths rather than fail to make his fortune” 5 (24). In a further move to Realism, Stendhal notes the causes of Julien’s psychological ambivalence towards Mother Nature; the refutation of Julien’s father toward his son, who he perceives as a “weakling” (28). Without a paternal figure, Julien must use the life history of Napoleon as a roadmap to manhood: “Suddenly he had the bold notion to kiss her hand. Before long he was frightened at his boldness. A second later he told himself: ‘It would be cowardly of me not to 5 In this 1830s this disorder was known as “moral insanity,” and is now understood as sociopathic.
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carry out an action that may be useful to me and lessen the contempt this fine lady must feel for a workingman who’s just been torn away from his saw’…as he spoke those words he ventured to take Mme. de Rênal’s hand and raise it to his lips.” (39). This Napoleonic self-testing can explain Julien’s sudden “bold notion to kiss [Mme. de Rênal’s] hand”; he needs to prove his worth as a man, not a weakling (39). Mother Nature initially denies his urge for social status, and endows him with a “feminine complexion,” which furthers his ambivalence. Stendhal attributes Julien’s contentment in Vergy, in part, to the protagonist’s knowledge that he commands power over Mme. de Rênal: “ Julien was far from having [truly Romantic feelings] like these. His love was still akin to ambition. It was the joy of possessing, poor unfortunate and despised as he was, so beautiful of a woman” (96). Julien uses Mme. de Rênal as the representation of Mother Nature; he loves the Mother in the “noble, Romantic soul” of Mme. de Rênal, yet he also tries to destroy her in a fit of psychotic rage (161). Julien further distances himself from Mother Nature in his movement toward Paris, his transformation from a country boy to a dandy. However, the culmination of Julien’s madness occurs when he is furthest from Nature, which follows from the Romantic sense of mother as healer. Through Julien’s outward display of apparent madness, Stendhal provides a ground to view Julien in his sanest form. To examine this hypothesis, the reader must reflect on Julien’s inner and outer appearance
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throughout the novel. As Julien matures, the two poles of his personality constantly
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