Benjamin Constant was for many years the companion of Madame de Stael. It was as stormy affair which often caused him great unhappiness, but he lacked the moral courage to break with her. In Adolphe, written in 1816 and known to be largely autobigraphical, Constant chronicles just such a love affair. A young man woos and wins an older woman. Unleashed in her is such a violent and possessive passion that he is afraid and procrastinates for years over how he may escape. When, finally, he obtains his freedom it is to discover that it is anathema to him. He realizes he is destined to remain forever unfulfulled. Unsurpassed in English literature, Constant's depiction of a tormented passion is both typically French and breathtakingly universal. It is a novel which plumbs "the depth of human character, its passions, motives, and exposes the myriad shifts and disguises of its self-centredness".
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.
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