"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

August 1, 2011

"Adolphe" by Benjamin Constant

Adolphe (1816) by Benjamin Constant tells the story of an introverted young man, Adolphe, harboring a melancholy outlook on life. At 22, he has just completed his studies in Gottingen and now is hanging around in D** before returning to sterner duties at home. Inspired by a friend, he relieves his boredom by courting an older woman, Ellénore, the beautiful Polish mistress of the Comte de P**. First she refuses him, then she acquiesces and after that her ardor grows larger than his. She leaves the Comte and her two children.

But now Adolphe becomes worried: he realizes he is sacrificing his future. Ellénore, however, loves him more than ever. Their all-consuming relationship drives a wedge between them and society. Will he be able to break loose from her?

This novella does away with all descriptions and focuses solely on detailed accounts of states of mind. Adolphe and Ellénore are all the time analyzing and rationalizing their thoughts and feelings, something which seems very French to me, in an interesting way. By doing so, Adolphe has become the first psychological novel ever written.
Adolphe is available as an Oxford World Classic: I read it in the French version on Gutenberg.
Audio version (French).