In 1819 Stendhal first had the idea of writing a novel based on his unreciprocated feelings towards Métilde Dembowski while in Italy. However the idea of a novel was soon abandoned in favour of a psychological exposition of the workings of love. 

De l'amour was published in 1822 by P. Mongie without Stendhal's name on the cover and enjoyed no success whatsoever. Mongie told Stendhal that the book "must be sacred because nobody touches it."

The most famous passage in De l'amour details the stages in the birth of love, including Stendhal's definition of cristallisation.

'On the Birth of Love' is Chapter 2 of On Love and details the seven stages of love according to Stendhal. 

Translation by J. J. Haldane

Chapter II

On the Birth of Love

Here is what happens in one’s soul:

1. Admiration.

2. You say to yourself, ‘What a pleasure it would be to kiss her and be kissed by her!’ etc.

3. Hope.
You study her perfections and it is at that moment that a woman should give herself to you for the greatest possible pleasure. Even with the most reserved women their eyes redden at the moment of hope; passion is at its height and their pleasure is so alive that they visibly betray themselves.

4. Love is born.
To love is to take pleasure in seeing, touching, experiencing with all your senses, and being as close as possible to the loveable object, which loves you back.

5. The first crystallisation begins.
You take pleasure in embellishing the lady of whose love you are sure with a thousand perfections. You look at all her happiness with an infinite feeling of contentment. You end up by wildly exaggerating her qualities and look upon her as an angel fallen from Heaven. While you do not yet know her you feel sure that you will soon possess her.

Allow the mind of a lover to reflect alone for twenty-four hours and here is what you will find:
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.

This is what I call crystallisation. It’s the mental process by which everything is taken as yet further evidence of the loved one’s perfections.

A traveller speaks of the cool respite from the hot summer days afforded by the orange groves by the sea at Genoa and you think only of sharing the experience with her.

One of your friends breaks his arm while out hunting and you think of what it would be like to be treated by the one you love. To be with her always and to see her constant love would almost make the pain heavenly. And from the broken arm of your friend comes more proof on the angelic virtue of your mistress. In a word, no sooner is a perfection identified than it is attributed to the woman you love.

This phenomenon, that I have taken the liberty of naming crystallisation comes from Nature, which commands us to experience pleasure, and which sends the blood to our head. It comes also from the feeling that the pleasure increases with each new perfection of the loved one, and from the idea that she is mine. The savage does not have time to go beyond the first stage. He experiences pleasure but all activity in his brain is occupied with the task of following the deer fleeing him in the forest. For its meat will allow him to replenish his forces so he will not to fall under his enemy’s axe.

At the other extremity of civilisation, I do not doubt that a tender lady can come to this point – and only find physical pleasure with the man whom she loves.[1] This is in contrast to the savage, but in civilized countries the lady has leisure whereas the savage is so occupied with survival that he is forced to treat his female as a beast of burden. If the female animal is more content then it is because the male’s ability to get food is more assured.

But let us leave the forests and get back to Paris. A man in love sees all perfections in the one he loves and yet his attention can still be distracted because the soul soon tires of the same thing, even perfect happiness.[2]

Here is what appears to fix the attention:

6. Doubt is born.
After ten or twelve glances, or any other series of actions, that may last a second or several days, have first given and then satisfied hope, the lover recovers from his initial amazement and growing accustomed to his happiness, or guided by the opinion that, always based on frequency of experience, one must only give one’s attention to easy women, the lover, I say, asks for more positive assurances and wishes to drive his happiness home.

He finds that he may encounter indifference, [3] coldness or even anger if he shows himself to be too bold. In France this is a touch of irony, which seems to say: “You think yourself closer to my heart than you really are!” A lady behaves in this way either because she awakes from a moment of intoxication to hear the voice of modesty, which she trembles at the thought of having disobeyed, or simply in the name of prudence or coquetry.

The lover comes to doubt the happiness that he had promised himself and becomes cynical of the reasons for hoping that he thought were there.

He decides to occupy himself with the other pleasures life has to offer but he finds these have lost all their attraction. The fear of an awful misery seizes him and he thinks hard.

7. Second crystallisation.
And so begins the second crystallisation and its diamonds are the affirmations such as this:

She loves me.

Every quarter of an hour in the night, when doubts begin, after a moment of awful misery, the lover says to himself: “Yes, she loves me”, and the crystallisation recommences to be adorned with new attractions. But tired-eyed the lover’s doubts interrupt the process. His lungs forget to breathe and he asks himself: “But does she love me?” And in the middle of all this delicious and dreadful questioning the poor man feels this: “She’s the only one is the world who can make me truly happy.”

The truth is now clear and it is a path on the very edge of this awful precipice in reach of the most perfect happiness. It is this that makes the second crystallisation so much better than the first.

The lover’s mind endlessly shifts between the following three ideas:

1.    She is perfect in every way.

2.    She loves me.

3.    What can I do to win from her the clearest possible proof of her love?

The most awful moment of a love still in its early stages is when the lover realizes that he has made an mistake and he is obliged to destroy a whole layer of crystallisation.

You start to doubt the whole process of crystallisation itself.   


[1] If this characteristic is not present in man it is for the reason that he has no modesty to sacrifice.

[2] This means that existence presents man with only a few moments of perfect happiness whereas the way in which he displays his passion changes ten times a day.

[3] That which the novels of the seventeenth century call the stroke of lightening and which decides the destiny of the hero and his mistress is an impulse of the heart which actually occurs in real life where one can offer no defensive manoeuvre, although this effect has been spoilt by a never ending number of scribblers going over doing it. The woman in love finds too much happiness in the way she feels to make such pretence impossible and, tired of being prudent, she forgets all caution and gives herself blindly to the delights of love. Distrust makes the stroke of lightening impossible.