Sunday, July 10, 2011

Love is Like a Rock - Rock Candy and Stendhal's "Love"

Rock Candy Heart

Poor Marie-Henri Beyle. All he wanted in his live was some sweet, some love. His extraordinarily picaresque achievements, as esteemed scholar of both mathematics and the arts, a soldier loyal to Napoleon, and the author of the masterpieces, The Red and The Black and The Charterhouse of Parma, written under the pen name, Stendhal, paled in his beleaguered quest to attain the love of a woman who was both puzzled and suspicious of him.

Forever unsettled by the loss of his mother when he was seven, and ultimately disillusioned by life in France, he was enthralled with Italy's culture, its music, its art, and one particular woman. Mathilde Viscontini Dembowski, married but estranged from a Polish officer, was staunchly loyal to Italy and dangerously involved in the intrigues of the Carbonari, a group whose aim was to overthrow Austria's annexation of Italian territory. So obsessed was Stendhal with Dembowski, whom he affectionately named Métilde, that he wrote an entire volume of essays obsessively explaining his theories De l'Amour (On Love, sometimes known as Love), a work which he believed surpassed his finest fiction. Still as complicated, mind boggling, and frustratingly inscrutable and bizarre as it was at the time of its publication, it is nonetheless famous for Stendhal's metaphorically sublime chapter on The Birth of Love and its crystallization:

At the Salzburg salt mines in the winter they throw a bare branch from a leafless tree into the abandoned depths of the mines. When they return two or three months later they find that the branch is now adorned with sparkling crystals. The smallest twig, no bigger than a tit’s claw, is now covered with an infinite number of dazzling diamonds. The branch first thrown in the mine is no longer recognizable.

Gifted writer that Stendhal was, I wonder if he was aware of another process of sparkling transformation, that of a slip of fine string suspended in a concentration of sugar syrup, which collects “diamonds” of rock crystal while rendering the string invisible in a week's time.

Whether by love or sugar, we human beings are chemically altered and enlivened by changes in the brain as mysterious as they are intoxicating. Though Stendhal and Brian Ferry would never be destined to meet, I'm sure the former would have appreciated that human needs have never changed. Love is still the drug that we need to score.

The current humidity forbids me from attempting to make my own rock candy, but there are several online options for success. It is a fairly easy recipe by all accounts.


  1. I love rock candy, but have never made my own.



  2. I read Charterhouse of Parma when I was in high school, and still hole the book nostalgically close to my heart (I almost did not recognize its title in English, as in Serbian it is something like Carthusian Monastery in Parma:)
    I did not know about his inner suffering, or the salt story, but it is fascinating. Thanks for sharing this little bit of trivia!

  3. All of yesterday, I kept looking for pictorials of how to make rock candy - seems like a lot of sugar for a small treat is the impression I got. Loved your narration.

  4. Great post! Love your guest posts, what fun!

  5. Will you believe it? I am currently re-reading Le Rouge et le Noir (the Red and the Black). I had found it so boring in high school, but now I am enjoying every page!
    What a great idea to make one's own rock candy. I had no idea it could be made so easily (kind of!!):-)

  6. You definitely got me curious about learning the process to make rock candy. The photo is just fabulous. I have actually not read Stendhal's novels, but I have seen movies. However, I remember thinking about Stendhal the first time I visited la Certosa di Pavia, which is really beautiful and it is a source of wonder every time I visit it.

  7. Rosa - It's not hard to make, except that weather conditions need to be just so w/ sugar. After you boil up the syrup and set in the string or stick, it pretty much takes care of itself - a very sweet & simple science experiment. I can see young kids checking in on it every day.

    Lana - There's a lot of complicated drama and romantic pathos in Stendhal. It is no wonder you still hold his work close. I'm planning on reading his major fiction again very soon.

    Sra - Thanks. It is a lot of sugar, all sugar, in fact. ; )

    Hi, Kirsten. Thank you. Glad you are enjoying your visits.


    Vanessa - Yes, I do believe it. : } Synchronicity is a lovely and mysterious phenomenon. And isn't it wonderful that we can revisit something with a more mature mind and soul to find beauty and richness in it?

    There are, BTW, far more difficult candies to make than rock sugar. I had a heck of a time with Turkish Delight a few years back. I haven't revisited the recipe, but it is still my all-time favorite sweet.


    Thanks, Simona. I haven't seen the films, but fr/ what I researched, they are productions a few decades old. No surprise that Stendhal would be mad for Italy; La Certosa di Pavia alone is reason to swoon.

    Swooning, though, does seem to be his trademark. I recently learned of Stendhal Syndrome, coined after his delirious reaction to visiting Florence and being overcome while viewing the art. It is fascinating and very, very odd.