Places Discussed


*Cerenza. Village on the River Neto, near the larger town of Cosenza, in southern Italy. Although the novel situates Cerenza in the region of Calabria, at the tip of Italy’s “boot,” Cerenza actually belongs to the region of Basilicata, north of Calabria. There, the flooding of the Neto briefly brings together the hero and the fictional publisher of Adolphe’s journal, whose comments on it open and close the novel. Adolphe’s other travels—and especially his indifference to his enforced stay in Cerenza—suggest a restless, even wasted life. The publisher comments on this in the final lines of the novel, noting the inability of people to make themselves “any better by a change of scene.” This and similar reflections make Adolphe’s various moves in the story a symptom more of his conflicts and aimlessness than of the kind of cosmopolitan ease evidenced in Benjamin Constant’s own sojourns throughout Europe.


*Göttingen. City in central Germany on the Leine River, where Adolphe’s first-person narrative opens at the time of his graduation from the University of Göttingen—the only specific German location mentioned in the novel. It is unclear where Adolphe lived earlier, since he identifies his father only as minister to a German prince. Constant himself attended the university at Erlangen in southeastern Germany; he may have chosen to use Göttingen in his novel because he lived there with his wife from 1811 to 1813.


D——. Small, unnamed German town near Göttingen in which Adolphe takes up residence after leaving Göttingen, instead of accepting his father’s offer to...

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Cruickshank, John. Benjamin Constant. New York: Twayne, 1974. One of the best introductions in English to the wide range of Constant’s literary, biographical, political, and religious works. Includes a good chronology and selected bibliography.

Fairlie, Alison. Imagination and Language: Collected Essays on Constant, Baudelaire, Nerval, and Flaubert. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Approximately one-fourth of Fairlie’s volume consists of essays on Adolphe, which Fairlie calls “that most quietly disruptive of all French novels.” Treats the book’s style, structure, and characterization, as well as its reception by other French novelists such as Honoré de Balzac. Two of the eight essays are in French.

Nicolson, Harold. Benjamin Constant. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985. A sympathetic biography by a noted writer and diplomat. The most readily available biography in English, but one based on secondary sources and not reflecting later scholarship. Places Constant clearly in the context of his tumultuous period.

Turnell, Martin. The Novel in France. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1972. Turnell considers Constant and Adolphe in a tradition that extends from the seventeenth century novelist Madame de La Fayette to the twentieth century novelist Marcel Proust, and declares Constant’s protagonist to be “the ancestor of the heroes of innumerable modern novels.”

Wood, Dennis. Benjamin Constant: Adolphe. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. An essential, sharply focused volume. Includes a useful chronology of Constant’s life, chapters on the novel’s biographical and intellectual context, and a detailed analysis of the book’s first three chapters. Wood concludes by highlighting the novel’s impact on future generations of writers.