Stendhal (actually Marie Henri de Beyle) was born on January 23, 1783, the son of a lawyer in Grenoble. The pseudonym "Stendhal" goes back to the town of the same name in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, though it is unclear why he chose this moniker. His mother died early on from childbed fever in 1790, and his father was arrested in 1794.
Stendhal was raised to the age of 12 by a priest. Beginning in 1796, he attended the newly established Central School in Grenoble. Because of a personal recommendation, he obtained a position in the Ministry of War from Pierre Daru. Under Napoleon, Stendhal took part in the Italian campaign in 1800, during which he was stationed in Milan as a regiments' clerk. His observation of the Battle of Marengo impressed him in such a way that he joined the 6th dragoon regiment and was shortly promoted to underlieutenant. He soon became adjuntant for General Michaud.
After the Peace of Amiens, he resigned from army service to study in Paris. This is where he discovered the author Helvétius, who had a tremendous impact on his philosophical perspective.
Following a torrid affair with the actress Melanie Guilbert, Stendhal's father stopped supporting him for a short time, so that he was forced to work as a greengrocer.
On returning to Paris in 1806, he entered the Sainte-Caroline Freemason Lodge. Again through Daru's influence, Stendhal found a position in the commissariat, which he successfully filled from 1806 until 1814. He traveled to Russia in 1812. As he reached Moscow, the effects of France's war with Germany forced him to flee with the army through Königsberg back to Paris.
He declined a subsequent military position after the defeat of Napoleon and settled in Milan, where he became familiar with Silvio Pellico, Alessandro Manzoni, and Lord Byron. In 1821, he came to the attention of the Italian authorities because of his acquaintance with several Italian patriots, and he was banned from Milan. Newly arrived in Paris but disconnected from the French art of the day, he found his way into the circle around Destutt de Tracy. In 1822, he published his "Essay sur l'amour," of which a total of 17 copies were sold in 11 years. In the next years, his pieces "Racine et Shakespeare" (1823), "Vie de Rossini" (1824), "D'un nouveau complot contre les industriels" (1825), "Promenades dans Rome" (1829), and his first novel "Armance, ou quelques scénes de Paris en 1827" (1827) followed. After the July Revolution, he was appointed consul to Triest in 1830, but the Austrian government rejected his placement, and he was sent to Civitavecchia.
His novel "Le Rouge et le Noir, chronique du XIXe siécle" appeared after his departure. While visiting Paris in 1833, Stendhal made the acquaintance of George Sand and Alfred de Musset. In 1835, he was made a knight of the "Légion d'Honneur". He released "Mémoires d'un touriste" in 1838. His first successful novel "La Chartreuse de Parma" appeared in 1839. The next year it received positive recognition from Balzac.
On March 22, 1842, Stendhal died following a stroke in the presence of Romain Colomb and Abraham Constantin in a Paris hotel. He was buried in the Montmartre cemetery.