Benjamin Constant: A Biography by Dennis Wood

By Dennis Wood

`For 40 years i've got defended a similar precept: freedom in every little thing, in faith, in philosophy, in literature, in undefined, in politics - and by way of freedom I suggest the triumph of the individual.' consistent hence summarized his ideals on the finish of his existence. A political theorist and a passionate defender of person liberty, he was once additionally the writer of 1 of the best French novels of mental perception, Adolphe. In an enormous new biography Dennis wooden lines the improvement of continuing as a author centrally preoccupied with the problematics of freedom, not just within the fields of politics and spiritual trust but additionally in his personal afflicted dating with a number of girls.

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There can be little doubt that the Constant who writes thus is identifying himself with the sufferings of Ann Hurle, the woman in question,22 and that Constant learned to sympathize with her absolute and bewildered defencelessness and her distress ‘which people were content to walk past and ignore as if it were a completely natural occurrence’, having lived through such experiences himself and probably at an early age. Such memories are indelible. The permanent fear that one will one day be abandoned again received, of course, its most famous and moving Benjamin constant 20 expression in Dickens’s recollection of the time he was set to work in Warren’s Blacking Factory: No words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into this companionship; compared these every day associates with those of my happier childhood; and felt my early hopes of growing up to be a learned and distinguished man, crushed in my breast.

For Verhoeff, even Ellénore’s abandonment of her children in Adolphe echoes Constant’s anger and resentment at the way he felt he had been treated in his earliest days: she becomes a ‘bad mother’. Verhoeff’s theory is an attractive one and fits a lot of the evidence. The principal drawback with it, apart from the strangely disappointing analysis of Adolphe to which it leads, is, I think, its exclusiveness. Verhoeff leaves aside all other environmental factors, and above all neglects Constant’s relationship with his father and with his governess from The grief that does not speak 27 the age of 5 (and later his stepmother), Marianne Magnin.

Now in Constant’s life chronic anxiety, depressive episodes and examples of his proneness to dejection and melancholia are too numerous to mention and well documented. As for suicide, even if we leave aside his notorious attempt in 1795 to win the love of Madame de Staël by possibly faking a suicide scene, there is at least one account in Constant’s writings of suicide contemplated and one of suicide actually attempted. 32 The contemplation of suicide occurred, according to Constant’s letter of 31 August 1787 to Isabelle de Charrière, during a boat trip on Lake Windermere: I have just experienced a kind of storm on Lake Windermere, the largest lake in this whole region, two miles from this village [Patterdale].

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