Benjamin Constant: A Biography by Dennis Wood

By Dennis Wood

`For 40 years i've got defended a similar precept: freedom in every thing, in faith, in philosophy, in literature, in undefined, in politics - and via 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 important new biography Dennis wooden lines the advance of continuing as a author centrally preoccupied with the problematics of freedom, not just within the fields of politics and non secular trust but in addition in his personal afflicted courting with numerous girls.

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This anxious dependence, alternating with outbreaks of rebelliousness—a pattern which was to repeat itself so often in his later life—was firmly established by the time Benjamin had reached early adolescence. His father was not disappointed in his literary hopes for The grief that does not speak 35 Benjamin: from a very early age the boy poured forth poems, translations and astonishingly witty and mature letters addressed to his relatives. In 1779 when he composed his first piece of any real significance, Les Chevaliers.

According to Ma Vie, so convinced was Juste de Constant of his son’s abilities and promise that the following year he took him to Oxford where he intended him to matriculate at the exceptionally early age of 13. The truth of the matter, however, seems to be that Juste’s relationship with his mother, ‘la Générale’, had now reached a nadir: harsh words had been exchanged over Benjamin’s upbringing and Juste wished to put himself and his son beyond her reach for a while. Courtney in 1985, which says as much about Juste himself as it does about his mother and Benjamin: I have been here for about three weeks.

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. If Constant came to feel guilty about his mother’s death because of his father’s continuing grief during his childhood, this would surely have occupied a dominant place in Constant’s mind.

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