This is an 1830 novel by the French novelist Stendhal, also well-known for The Red and the Black. This novel follows a young Italian minor noble who decides to go off to fight on Napoleon’s side only to first be accused and imprisoned as a suspected spy, and then to show up just in time for the Battle of Waterloo. As he escapes he is brought with his family to the city-state of Parma where he befriends the Prince, gets into an informal duel over the honor of a lady, kills his attacker, and is imprisoned as a murderer, and loses his friend the Prince.
This novel spends a lot of time with various facets and avenues of European aristocracy from the viewpoint of a culture (France) that has more or less put such things away. Stendhal is fascinated with the rules of court, the tragedies of these limitations, with the ways in which honor, money, class, and other factor command our attention and dictate our lives. He’s also very concerned with the ideas of justice and injustice.
The novel is quite fast-paced, and was a quick 500 page read (if one can be) as we move from misadventure to misadventure of a character that is sympathetic with the thinnest border between sympathy and irony. It comes close to farce at times, but never crosses the line. I think also that this translation is fantastic. The language here is so clear and generous and giving. It does not feel like a novel from 180 years ago, and reads more clearly than lots of novels of about that age I’ve read in English. It’s maybe a little TOO modern (the use of “fuck” twice is alarming and curious), but very satisfying.