Friday, August 5, 2011

#4: Adolphe by Benjamin Constant

by Benjamin Constant
-born in Switzerland, 1767
-112 Pages
-more about Constant (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Henri-Benjamin Constant De Rebecque was a descendent of exiled nobility in Switzerland.
- He was known for his fearlessness and hot temper, and engaged in numerous duels--including one fought while sitting in a chair.
- He had an affair with a family friend 27 years his senior, which ended when he met the noted intellectual, Madame de Stael. This relationship lasted through Constant's 2 brief marriages until her death 20 years later.
- More at home in the political arena, Adolphe--an autobiographical novella--was his only work of fiction.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
This story of a young man's illicit relationship with an older woman, Adolphe caused a scandal when it was first published in 1816, in no small part because it seemed to be based on some of the most well-known and powerful intellectuals of the day--including, most notably, the famous French writer Madame de Stael and her long-time lover, the author himself, Benjamin Constant.

Adolphe is the story of a young man with all the privileges and advantages of a noble birth, but who's still haunted by the meaninglessness of life. He seeks distraction in the pursuit of the beautiful, but older and married Ellenore, (a fictionalized version of Madame de Stael). The young Adolphe, inexperienced in love, falls for her unexpectedly and falters under the burden of the illicit love.  It remains one of the most haunting romances of all time...whether based on real people or not.

My Impressions:
What a sad story.  Not romantic/passionate/tragedy sad, but truly sad: one of those tales of people that can't live with each other, yet can't live without each other, and can't seem to make those difficult choices.  Adolphe's ever-changing, emotionally-influenced process of making decisions (and then not acting on them properly) was in such great contrast to Casanova's well thought out purpose and determination that it made for an interesting comparison.

I believe it is important, in life, to be aware of who you are and why you do the things you do, and also to be open to change and willing to grow and learn.  I know that it isn't always possible to stay on top of these things, but I still find it sad to see people that consistently muddle through their circumstances without actively taking part in them.  Adolphe lived in such a way that he wasn't really living much at all.  His father and other family friends saw it and tried to help in any way they knew how, but to no avail.  He was ruled by emotions, he functioned passive-aggressive co-dependency, and was rather unhappy all the while.  What a lesson he is to seize the day.  His fatalistic attitude is brought keenly back to my mind when I read the few passages I wrote down:
There are things one does not say for a long time, but, once they are said, one never stops repeating them.
It is a fearful misfortune not to be loved when you love; but it is a much greater misfortune to be loved passionately when you love no longer.
We are such volatile creatures that we finally feel the sentiments we feign. 
And now I'm onto some Jane Austen...more wit and good humor, and a nice change of pace before I'm on to another Duel.


  1. This sounds tragic. I too hate to see people mired in trouble that they can't ever seem to overcome. I love your commentary.

    My mil is in the Critical Care Unit in the hospital, so I'll have to skip a day or two of reading. But, I'm starting The Awakening!

  2. I'm sorry to hear about your mil...hope everything is well soon. It's been great fun sharing some of this reading with you!

  3. Hi there. I really enjoyed this review. This doesn't initially seem like the kind of story I would be interested in, but I love the way you talked about it. The way you described the main character makes him seem really interesting and genuine. The quotes you pulled out are just incredible, especially the last one. What beautiful writing! I'll have to pick this up some time.

    By the way, I'm absolutely loving all these reviews of the novellas you've been doing. I'm definitely interested in the whole collection now. Maybe I'll ask for them for my birthday or something.

    -Emily @ Reading While Female

  4. Thanks Emily, the more I read of this collection, the more I'm glad that I ended up letting my husband convince me to buy it. :) I was telling him the other day that there has been something great about each of the novellas. There are some that I enjoy more than others of course, but each one has been a good experience in some sense.


I'd love to hear what you have to say, leave a comment!