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Adolphe by Benjamin Constant

Adolphe (1816)

by Benjamin Constant

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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556727,932 (3.53)15
Adolphe is a privileged and refined young man, bored by the stupidity he perceives in the world around him. After a number of meaningless conquests, he at last encounters Ellenore, a beautiful and passionate older woman. Adolphe is enraptured and gradually wears down her resistance to his declarations of love. But as they embark on an intense and tortured affair, Ellenore gives way to a flood of emotion that only serves to repel her younger lover - yet he cannot bring himself to leave her and his procrastination can only bring tragedy. Partly inspired by Constant's own stormy affair with Madame de Staël, Adolphe (1816) is a penetrating psychological depiction of love that plumbs the depths of the passions, motives and inconsistencies of the human character.… (more)



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French (3)  English (3)  Danish (1)  All languages (7)
Showing 3 of 3
This is an unusual short novel. A story of a romance with virtually no context, however it suggests what Europe was like for a son of a wealthy family in the early 19th century. And, in one of the later chapters, Constant describes the physical geography of an area of Poland. But, beyond that, there's only Adolphe's emotions and his perceptions of Eleanor's. In its psychological approach it reminded me a bit of The Sorrows of Young Werther, but perhaps more closely resembles Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time.

The narrator, Adolphe, is an intelligent young man, given to analysis and raised in a household without much affection, who begins a relationship almost as an experiment – and also because he understands that this is what people are supposed to do. The woman is already the mistress of a Duke, and has two children with him but no real rights as acknowledged by society. He is young, 22 years old, and has just completed his studies at the University of Göttingen. He travels to a small town in Germany, where he becomes attached to the court of an enlightened Prince. During his stay he gains a reputation for an unpleasant wit. A friend inspires him to attempt the seduction of an older woman named Ellenore.

Eventually, the woman succumbs, and as far as the reader can tell she is entirely in earnest. She gives up everything for him. Rather quickly, Adolphe’s ardor entirely cools, but he feels unable to detach himself from her. He alternates between trying to be honest about his feelings and then, when he sees her getting more and more distraught, rapidly feigns emotions that he desperately wants to feel but no longer does. Adolphe becomes anxious as he realizes that he is sacrificing any potential future for the sake of Ellénore. She persuades him to extend his stay by six months, but they quarrel, and when she tends him after he is injured in a duel, he finds himself hopelessly indebted to her. He attempts to leave her only to have her follow him. The denouement leads Adolphe to return to a life of alienation more severe than that which he experienced before his affair.

I am not sure that I enjoyed this novel, but I certainly appreciated the approach - when, upon reflection, I realized the novelty of the psychological approach. It likely had a major impact on later "psychological" novels. According to a critic of Russian literature, Victor Terras, French literature of the nineteenth century influenced the major Russian writers, thus Dostoevsky likely was familiar with Constant. The fictional Adolphe is familiar with the things that he is supposed to say and how he is supposed to act, and in doing these things almost convinces himself that he is actually in love – for a short time, in fact, he might feel something similar to the real thing. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | May 22, 2017 |
Historically of interest - ref Madame de Stael. Madame Recamier, etc- but very narrow, little normal early nineteenth century life circumstances for main characters makes it less satisfying . Repetitious in plot line. Fluent , easy to read. ( )
  annejacinta | Oct 22, 2013 |
The short and tragic love story of Adolphe, a young and irrationally passionate young man, and the gentle Ellenore, a woman who is ten years his senior.
This book focuses on a familiar, yet no less depressing, story of the passion of supposed love. The storyline then follows the gradual disintegration of this emotion into something common-place, to something done out of duty, to something completely exhausting.
Half the book is spent with Adolphe being obsessed with Ellenore and doing everything he can to win her over, the other half follows Adolphe's lessening in affection toward her, and his half-hearted, weary efforts to cut her out of his life.
This is a sad and depressing story with no happy ending. However, it is certainly a great telling of supposed youthful emotion and passion, which makes the reader question "what is love?"
A thought provoking story. ( )
1 vote joririchardson | Jan 20, 2010 |
Showing 3 of 3
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» Add other authors (62 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Constant, BenjaminAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bianconi, PieroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Coleman, PatrickEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fredrik, JohanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gomperts, H.A.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Huet, G.H.M. vanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mauldon, MargaretTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nicolson, HaroldIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oliver, W AndrewEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Plemp van Duiveland, L.J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Poncet de la Grave, Ph.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roulin, AlfredContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Jaren geleden maakte ik een rondreis door Italië.
Ik was tweeëntwintig en had net mijn studie aan de universiteit van Göttingen voltooid.
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