Book Review: Adolphe by Benjamin Constant


I have already written about Adolphe in my review of Providence by Anita Brookner. It was a total coincidence that my TAOTN delivery arrived with Adolphe included just after I had finished reading the Brookner novel in which the protagonist leads a graduate school seminar in a close reading of the book.

Adolphe can be easily (and crudely) summarized thusly: For the first third of the book Adolphe seeks to win over the love of Ellénore. He spends the final two thirds trying to break up with her.
Like Tolstoy’s The Devil, I liked the straight forward storyteller-ish quality of this book. Unlike my experience with The Devil, my reflections on Adolphe were greatly enhanced by the discussion of it in the Brookner novel. It was almost as if I had been there for the discussion. Although Brookner’s characters are capable of a much more in-depth analysis of the text and its place in the Romantic tradition than little ol’ me. Plus they read it in its original French.

Since my experience of Adolphe was greatly influenced by the discussion in Providence, I will let Brookner flesh this out a bit.

‘…it is characteristic of the Romantic to reason endlessly in unbearable situations, and yet to remain bound by such situations…For the romantic, the power of reason no longer operates. Or rather, it operates, but it cannot bring about change.’

…the potency of this particular story comes from the juxtaposition of extremely dry language and extremely heated, almost uncontrollable sentiments…[T]here is a feeling that it is almost kept under lock and key, that even if the despair is total, the control remains.

…its terribly enfeebling message: that a man gets tired of a woman if she sacrifices everything for him, that such a woman will eventually die of her failure, and that the man will be poisoned by remorse for the rest of his life.

The Verdict: I liked Adolphe because it kept me in suspense as to how such a mind-f*** would end.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Adolphe by Benjamin Constant

  1. Susan in TX August 9, 2011 / 8:58 pm

    I don't know – this one sounds like a little too much work. :)


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