Les Borgia (Classiques) (French Edition)

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On Nov. The manuscript of ''Charterhouse'' was finished seven weeks later, on the day after Christmas -- an impressive feat, when you think that a typical French edition runs to pages. The swiftness of its composition is reflected in the narrative briskness for which it is so well known -- the ''gusto, brio, elan, verve, panache'' of which Howard is rightly conscious in his translation -- and, as even die-hard partisans of the novel would have to admit, in passages where compositional speed clearly took a toll in narrative coherence.

The idea for the book had actually been rattling around in Stendhal's head for some time. His Roman diaries of the late 's are crammed with lengthy references to the convoluted histories of the Italian Renaissance nobility, and the lineaments of ''Charterhouse'' owe a great deal to a 17th-century chronicle of the life of Alessandro Farnese, later Pope Paul III, that Stendhal came across during the course of his Italian travels.

Farnese, who became Pope in , had a beautiful aunt, Vandozza Farnese, the mistress of the cunning Rodrigo Borgia; murdered a young woman's servant; was imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo; escaped by means of a very long rope; and maintained as his mistress a well-born woman called Cleria. So while the extraordinary speed of the novel's composition can be attributed to an almost supernatural flash of inspiration, it can also be seen as the more natural outcome of a long and deliberate process that had finally achieved fruition.

Like the circumstances of its creation, the finished novel seems at once spontaneous and premeditated. The quick pace of the narrative and the vividness of the characters are balanced throughout by a coolly sardonic assessment of human nature and, in particular, of politics. Stendhal, a lifelong liberal who as an idealistic young man had followed Napoleon into Italy, Austria and Russia, found himself living at a time of almost unprecedented political cynicism in post-Restoration France; disgust with the bourgeois complacency of his countrymen played no little part in his admiration for the Italians, whom he considered to be more authentic -- more profound and more susceptible to violent emotions,'' as he wrote in his diary.

To Howard's credit, both the Italian passion and the French worldliness are evident here; but it is the novel's distinctive impetuousness and forward momentum, the qualities that so famously make it such a good read, that are fully captured here, perhaps for the first time, in English.

La famille Borgia

Howard himself finished the translation in 28 weeks -- one week per chapter -- a feat only slightly less miraculous than Stendhal's. But the appeal of ''Charterhouse'' is more than just a matter of its urgent, even impatient style ''Here we shall ask permission to pass, without saying a single word about them, over an interval of three years'' ; it lies, too, in its vibrant characters, who are prey to unruly emotions that will be familiar to contemporary readers. There is, to begin with, the novel's ostensible hero, the impetuous young Fabrice, who as a teen-ager, when the action begins, disobeys his right-wing father and sneaks off to fight for Napoleon.

What is most resonant for contemporary readers isn't Fabrice's starry-eyed idealism -- which is, after all, endemic among protagonists of Romantic novels, and which, in any case, is constantly belied by the hard and occasionally farcical realities of lived life an exhausted and slightly hung over Fabrice sleeps through much of Waterloo -- but the decidedly more modern, and even post-modern, way in which a sense of authenticity keeps eluding him. Like so many of us, Fabrice is always measuring his life against the poems and novels he has read.

With a self-consciousness more typical of the late 20th than the early 19th century, he keeps checking up on himself, as if trying to conform to some hidden master plan for being, or for loving -- a plan that, as the novel tragically demonstrates, he is never quite able to follow. No wonder he so often expresses himself in the interrogative: ''Had what he'd seen been a battle?

Had this battle been Waterloo? Fabrice is hardly the only vivid and oddly contemporary character here; you could easily argue -- many have -- that the real heroes are his aunt and her lover. Master political and social puppeteers, they are far more complicated and interesting than the young man they spend so much time trying, in vain, to establish in an adult life -- even as, with Laclos-like sang-froid, they try to stage-manage some contentment of their own.

Mosca to Gina: ''We might find a new and not unaccommodating husband. But first of all, he would have to be extremely advanced in years, for why should you deny me the hope of eventually replacing him? We first meet her at the age of 13, trying to stifle a giggle at the ragged appearance of a Napoleonic officer who's been billeted in her brother's opulent palace the Frenchman, Stendhal hints, is Fabrice's natural father , and from that moment we're never quite able to take our eyes off this woman who, despite her exalted social position and the Racinian dilemma she finds herself in, is never less than fully, sometimes comically, human.

Mosca, too, who in the perfect, inevitable geometry of unrequited love hopelessly adores Gina in a way he knows will never be reciprocated, is an intricate creation, complex and conflicted in his public as well as his private life we're told that this leader of the ultraconservative party started out, like his creator, as a Bonapartist and the victim of erotic passions that grip him, in Stendhal's vivid locution, ''like a cramp.

The novel's headlong narrative momentum, and the refreshingly real emotions of its acutely self-conscious characters, are clearly the work of a man who, like his young hero, rebelled in his youth against his stultifyingly conventional family, a man who wanted to be known as an artist and lover of women. Stendhal's epitaph, in Italian, which he composed while still in his 30's, reads: ''He lived.

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He wrote. He loved. The author's older voice comes through in the fate he chooses for his characters: by the end of the book Fabrice, solitary in the religious retreat to which the book's title refers, has died, still very young, having inadvertently caused the deaths of both Clelia by now married off to another man and their illegitimate child, the victims of a harebrained kidnapping plot gone horribly wrong; Gina follows him to the grave not long after. Only Mosca, the sole character who governs his passions successfully, survives. So, like its creator, the novel is part Fabrice and part Mosca.

Or, to put it another way, it contains the best qualities of its contemporary French rivals: it has the headlong plottiness of Balzac, complete with assassinations, forged papers, disguises and politically motivated self-prostitutions, and also the elaborate, almost glacial self-consciousness of Flaubert. In other words, it's got something for everyone. None of the English versions of ''Charterhouse'' currently available is inadequate -- least of all that of C. Scott Moncrieff, the great translator of Proust, whose version was the Modern Library's predecessor to the new edition and which is still remarkably readable.

But because language itself changes, even the best renderings of any work stop sounding modern after a while; and precisely because of its narrative momentum and the contemporary-seeming predicaments of its characters, ''Charterhouse'' needs to sound modern. This Howard's translation does. Several of the methods of boring in soft ground are employed in connexion with civil engineering operations; as for ascertaining the depth below the surface to solid rock, preparatory to excavating for and designing deep foundations for heavy structures, and for estimating the cost of large scale excavations in earth and rock.

The two last mentioned were intended to obtain as complete a knowledge as possible of the bituminous coal and oil-bearing formations. There are five methods of boring, viz. The first two methods are adapted to soft or earthy soils only; the others are for rock.

Earth augers comprise spiral and pod augers. The ordinary spiral auger resembles the wood auger commonly used by carpenters. It is attached to the rod or stem by a socket joint, successive sections of rod being added as the hole is deepened. The auger is rotated by means of horizontal levers, clamped to the rod—by hand for holes of small diameter 2 to 6 in. Clayey, cohesive soils, containing few stones, are readily bored; stony ground with difficulty.

The operation of the auger is intermittent. After a few revolutions it is raised and emptied, the soil clinging between the spirals. Depths to 50 or 60 ft. For sandy, non-cohesive soils, the auger may be encircled by a close-fitting sheet-iron cylinder to prevent the soil from falling out. Pod augers generally vary in diameter from 8 to 20 in. A common form fig. By being turned through a few revolutions the pod is filled, and is then raised and emptied. For boring in sandy soils, the open sides are closed by hinged plates.

For holes of large diameter earth augers are handled with the aid of a light derrick. Drive pipes are widely used, both for testing the depth and character of soft material overlying solid rock and as a necessary preliminary to rock boring, when some thickness of surface soil must first be passed through. When of small size the pipe is driven by a heavy hammer; for deep and large holes, a light pile-driver becomes necessary.

The lower end of the pipe is provided with an annular steel shoe; the upper end has a drivehead for receiving the blows of the hammer. Successive lengths are screwed on as required.

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It is lowered at intervals, filled by being dashed up and down, and then raised and emptied. If, after reaching some depth, the external frictional resistance prevents the pipe from sinking farther, another pipe of small diameter may be inserted and the driving continued. Drive pipes are often sunk by applying weights at the surface and slowly rotating by a lever. Two pipes are then used, one inside the other. Water is pumped down the inner pipe, thus loosening the soil, raising the debris and increasing the speed of driving. Drill and Rods. In the United States it is rarely employed for depths greater than or ft.

The usual form of cutting tool or drill is shown in fig. The iron rods are from 1 to 2 in. Wooden rods are occasionally used. For shallow holes 50 to 75 ft. The men alternately raise and drop the drill, meanwhile slowly walking around and around to rotate the bit and so keep the hole true. The cuttings are cleaned out by a bailer, as for drive pipes. In boring by hand, the practical limit of depth is soon reached, on account of the increasing weight of the rods.

This is a tapering pole, say 30 ft. It rests in an inclined position on a fulcrum set about 10 ft. The rods are suspended from the end of the pole, which extends at a height of several feet over the mouth of the hole. With the aid of the spring of the pole the strokes are produced by a slight effort on the part of the driller. Average speeds of 6 to 10 ft. For deep boring the rod system requires a more elaborate plant. By means of a screw-feed device, the rods, which are rotated slightly after every stroke, are gradually fed down as the hole is deepened, length after length being added.

A tall derrick carries the sheaves and ropes by which the rods and tools are manipulated. The drill bit cannot be attached rigidly to the rods as in shallow boring, because the momentum of the heavy moving parts, transmitted directly to the bit as the blow is struck, would cause excessive vibration and breakage. It becomes necessary, therefore, to introduce a sliding-link joint between the rods and bit. One form of link is shown in fig.

On striking its blow, the bit comes to rest, while the rods continue to descend to the end of the stroke, the upper member of the link sliding down upon the lower.

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Then, on the up stroke the lower link, with the bit, is raised for delivering another blow. By using the sliding link the cross-section and weight of the rods may be greatly reduced, the only strain being that of tension. To deliver a sharp, effective blow, however, the rods must drop with a quick stroke, which brings a heavy strain upon the operating machinery. By these the bit is allowed to fall by gravity; the rod follows on its measured down stroke, and picks up the bit.

Free-falling tools are of two classes: 1 those by which the bit is released automatically; 2 those operated by a sudden twist imparted to the rod by the drillman. One of the best known of the first class is the Kind free-fall fig. The shank of the bit is gripped and released by the jaws J, J, worked through a toggle joint by movements of the disk D.