Short summary - Adolphe - Benjamin Constant - Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Adolphe
Benjamin Constant - Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque

The beginning of the last century. A certain traveler, making a trip to Italy, in one of the provincial towns meets a sad young man. When a young man falls ill, the traveler takes care of him, and he, having recovered, in gratitude gives him his manuscript. Confident that the diary of Adolf (that is the name of the stranger) "cannot offend anyone and will not hurt anyone," the traveler publishes it.
Adolf completed his science course in Göttingen, where he stood out among his comrades in intelligence and talents. Father Adolf, in whose relation to his son "there was more nobility and magnanimity than tenderness," pins great hopes on him.
But the young man does not seek to advance in any field, he only wants to surrender to "strong impressions" that elevate the soul above the ordinary. After completing his studies, Adolf goes to the court of a sovereign prince, to the city D. After a few months, thanks to the "awakened wit", he manages to acquire the fame of a man "frivolous, mocking and spiteful."
“I want to be loved,” Adolf says to himself, but he doesn't feel attracted to any woman. Suddenly, in the house of Count P., he meets his mistress, a charming Polish woman who was not of her first youth. Despite her ambiguous position, this woman is distinguished by the greatness of her soul, and the count loves her very much, for for ten years now she has selflessly shared with him not only joys, but also dangers and hardships.
Ellenora, that is the name of the earl's girlfriend, has exalted feelings and is distinguished by accuracy of judgments. Everyone in society recognizes the impeccability of her behavior.
Appearing to Adolf's gaze at the moment when his heart demands love, and vanity - success in the world, Ellenora seems to him worthy to covet her. And his efforts are crowned with success - he manages to win the heart of a
woman.At first, Adolf thinks that since Ellenora gave himself up to him, he loves and respects her even more. But soon this delusion is dispelled: now he is sure that his love is beneficial only for Ellenora, that he, having made her happiness, himself is still unhappy, for he is ruining his talents, spending all his time with his mistress. Father's letter summons Adolf to his homeland; Ellenora's tears force him to postpone his departure for six months.
For the sake of love for Adolph, Ellenora breaks with Count P. and loses the fortune and reputation gained by ten years of "devotion and constancy." In dealing with her, men have some kind of swagger. Adolf accepts Ellenora's sacrifice and at the same time seeks to break with her: her love is already weighing on him. Not daring to openly leave his mistress, he becomes a passionate denouncer of female hypocrisy and despotism. Now in society "they hate him", and "they pity her, but do not respect her."
Finally, Adolf leaves for his father. Ellenora, despite his protests, comes to him in the city. Upon learning of this, Adolf's father threatens to expel her outside the elector's domain. Outraged by his father's interference, Adolf reconciles with his mistress, they leave and settle in a small town in Bohemia. The further, the more Adolf is burdened by this connection and languishes from idleness.
Count P. invites Ellenore to return to him, but she refuses, which makes Adolf feel even more indebted to his beloved, and at the same time even more strives to break with her. Soon, Ellenora again has the opportunity to change her life: her father is restored to possession of his estates and calls her to him. She asks Adolf to go with her, but he refuses, and she stays. At this time, her father dies, and, so as not to feel remorse, Adolf travels with Ellenora to Poland.
They settle in Ellenora's estate near Warsaw. From time to time, Adolf visits his father's longtime friend, Count T. Passionate about separating Adolf from his mistress, the count awakens ambitious dreams in him, introduces him into society, constantly exposes Ellenora in an unattractive light. Finally, Adolf promises him in writing to break up with Ellenora. However, after returning home and seeing the tears of his faithful beloved, he does not dare to fulfill his promise.
Then Count T. notifies Ellenor in writing of the decision taken by the young man, supporting his message with a letter from Adolf. Ellenora falls seriously ill. Adolf learns about Count T.'s act, is indignant, a feeling of contradiction awakens in him, and he does not leave Ellenora until her last breath. When it’s all over, Adolf suddenly realizes that he is painfully lacking the addiction from which he always wanted to get rid of.
In her last letter, Ellenora writes that the cruel Adolf encouraged her to take the first step towards their separation. But life without a lover is worse for her than death, so she can only die. The inconsolable Adolf goes on a journey. But "having rejected the creature that loved him," he, still restless and dissatisfied, does not "make any use of freedom, acquired at the cost of so many sorrows and tears."
The publisher of Adolf's manuscript philosophically notes that the essence of a person is in his character, and we cannot break with ourselves, then a change of place does not correct us, but, on the contrary, “we only add remorse to regrets, and mistakes to sufferings” ...