Issue 2009, number 34: summaries
La traduction en anglais des résumés publiés dans le n°34 a été assurée par le professeur Dennis Wood.
«Three works by Benjamin Constant put on the Index and a fourth condemned by the Spanish Inquisition (First article)»
Three texts by Benjamin Constant – his essay “On the gradual development of religious ideas” [«Du développement progressif des idées religieuses»] which appeared in the Encyclopédie progressive, his Commentary on a work by Filangieri [Commentaire sur l’ouvrage de Filangieri] and his work On Religion considered in its sources and developments [De la Religion considérée dans sa source et ses développements] – were examined by the Congregation of the Index of the Holy See on 11 June 1827 and were condemned. They were listed in a notice which appeared on the doors of the principal churches of Rome on 15 September 1827 and also in the first edition of Pope Gregory XVI’s Index [Librorum Prohibitorum, “List of Prohibited Books”] which was published in 1835. A fourth work, the Principles of Politics applicable to all Representative Governments and particularly to the present Constitution of France [Principes de politique applicables à tous les gouvernemens représentatifs et particulièrement à la constitution actuelle de la France] was condemned by the Holy Office of the Spanish Inquisition in a decree published in Madrid on 2 March 1817. This last condemnation was the subject of an article in Le Moniteur universel of 25 March 1817. These events have so far been ignored by Constant specialists. In this article we intend to throw light on how the Sacred Congregation of the Index worked, to make public the documents which we have discovered (with the exception of the proceedings of the Spanish Inquisition, which will be presented in a second article) and to analyse the political impact of all of them.
«The Anecdote found among the papers of an unknown man and its framing texts: spatial frontiers and the fictional entity»
Despite its apparent simplicity, the internal textual articulation of Adolphe is particularly complex. The novel consists of four texts: the “Publisher’s Note”, the “Anecdote found among the papers of an unknown man”, the “Letter to the Publisher” and the “Reply”.
Adolphe’s narrative comes between two blocks of text. The “Publisher’s Note” at the very beginning, which is where ordinarily a Preface would appear, presents the “Anecdote” and explains its provenance. At the end we have the “Letter from the Publisher” and the “Reply”, an exchange of letters which follows the story and which amounts to a Postscript allowing the author (the publisher) to expatiate on a text which the reader now knows.
What is the status of the three texts which frame the “Anecdote found among the papers of an unknown man”? What is their function? How do they relate to each other and to the “Anecdote” ? Are they there simply to emphasize the story’s authenticity? Or, on the contrary, do they themselves constitute an “Anecdote” with its own practical purpose? Are they part of Adolphe’s story or do they stand outside it?
This article will attempt to provide some answers to these questions by describing the architecture of Adolphe and by explaining how this “fictional labyrinth” is put together.
«Benjamin Constant and autobiography: a narratological approach to the problem of genre»
Constant's literary works call into question in a very apposite way what is at stake in the writing of autobiography. Constant’s literary output – Amélie et Germaine, Cécile, Ma vie and Adolphe – can be seen as an exploration of the limits of the genre, in which each text examines in its own fashion the recounting of an individual’s experience. Our choice of a narratological approach has been determined by the importance of the issues raised for autobiography in general and for Constant’s work in particular. The analysis of time allows us to be specific about the narrative models which Constant is drawing on in these works and to view the structure of these accounts within the problematics of writing about oneself. The relationship between the narrating subject and the subject which is recounted – which is directly dependent on the temporal structure – also emerges as crucial to the problematics of autobiography, since it makes visible the way in which the narrative transforms lived reality. These two analytical approaches enable us to identify the way in which each text is located at the intersection of different genres – literary and non-literary, autobiographical or fictional (diary, picaresque novel, confession…), and to show what motivated the writing of the text (for personal use, as a moral example, as a literary exercise…). Constant’s works can thus be viewed as a demonstration of the complexity of the autobiographical genre and of the richness of its ambiguities.
«“The most dreadful of all conceivable crimes”: Benjamin Constant, Isabelle de Charrière and Germaine de Staël faced with Marie-Antoinette's destiny»
Isabelle de Charrière, Benjamin Constant and Germaine de Staël all reacted to Marie-Antoinette’s emprisonment and subsequent execution. Staël had met the Queen, had offered to help her escape from the Tuileries, and published a short but well-argued pamphlet in the summer of 1793, stating that were the Revolutionaries to kill her, they would grant her a form of consecration. Benjamin Constant was in regular correspondence with Charrière at the time. She mocked Staël’s Réflexions sur le procès de la Reine as both slipshod and grandiloquent; he went along with her criticism though he insinuated that she might be reacting out of jealousy: she had written an unpublished text on Marie-Antoinette as well as a fairytale, Aiglonette et Insinuante, which suggested the Queen of France was too unbending. Identification of a book Constant quotes from in October 1793, La Constitution de la lune, by Beffroy de Reigny, which led to the discovery of a forgotten article about him, could pave the way for a re-evaluation of his position at the time. Careful consideration of letters written by the three authors seem to indicate that Marie-Antoinette’s death constituted a turning-point in his attitude towards the Revolution. Increasingly wary of the events in France, he was moving intellectually apart from Isabelle de Charrière and closer to Germaine de Staël to whom he was only introduced some months later.
«Benjamin Constant in the Mélanges de littérature et de politique [Literary and Political Miscellany]: a writer thinking about Europe or a European thinker?»
The Mélanges de littérature et de politique, in which Benjamin Constant brought together in 1829 twenty or so essays on different subjects (history, literature, politics, economics, religion), is not a work devoted to Europe. Every text in the collection, however, is firmly anchored in a Europe which governs entirely the ideas and lives of the people discussed. The historical, geographical and political reality of Europe is complex and problematic. Through its diversity it offers an infinite number of possible points of comparison when any subject is approached. But in this European reality there is also an area of ambiguity which can give rise to conflicting intellectual and moral outlooks: on the one hand, to euphoric activism, and on the other, to melancholy introspection. Both of these contradictory attitudes merge together in a paradoxical fusion in the personality of Benjamin Constant.
«Napoleon, thinker and architect of Europe?»
The Coppet Circle imagined an ideal Europe. Napoleon’s Europe did exist, for better or for worse. Born as well from the French Revolution, its principles, its idea of the Great Nation as from the Emperor’s ambition and dreams, this Europe, during a few years, embodied the French supremacy. But it was also shaped and determined by the war between Great-Britain and France, undertaken since the 18th century for world domination. Even though it was defeated by the effects of the Blocus continental – a paradoxal form of economic union – and by a nationalist revival in the annexed or overruled countries, modern forms of state prevailed and a new spirit was given to European nations. Europe did suffer but also gained from Napoleon, whom, in spite of all these contradictions, we may call an architect of Europe.
This paper highlights the difficulties encountered by those editing Constant. They arise because of Constant’s personality – he was a perfectionist and indecisive – and the nature of his texts. The works which Constant published during his lifetime seldom cause any problems as far as establishing the text is concerned. But an editor is obliged to go into its history, which is sometimes long and complicated. Those works which were not published pose questions of a varying nature. Everything is simple when we possess only one manuscript of a narrative. But other texts are more difficult to edit, especially when Constant worked on them for a long time and they were left unfinished. His personal writings, diaries and correspondence each raise problems which are linked to their very nature. The first of his private diaries (journal intime) is quite easy to read, but its abbreviated form, which is in code, is much harder. As for his “Greek journal”, it is written entirely in French, but uses the Greek alphabet, and therefore needs to be completely transcribed.
Constant’s correspondence needed to be gathered together before it could be edited. For the most part it was assembled before editorial work began. It is at times hard to read, notably the letters addressed to him in German by Charlotte, who wrote in Gothic script. Problems of dating need to be resolved, since letters were often incomplete in their dating or occasionally were given the wrong date. Facts and people mentioned in the correspondence need explanatory notes, since we are dealing generally with letters between friends or which were strictly private.
Sylvie Moret Petrini
«Between playing with dolls and being part of society: Cécile Constant's childhood under the watchful eye of her governesses»
Drawing on an exceptionally valuable source, the journal of two successive governesses of Cécile Constant for the the years 1809 to 1819, this article considers the childhood of a Lausanne girl born into a good family. What emerges clearly is that both Cécile's parents and her governesses hope that she will rapidly grow into a sensible young woman capable of taking her place in society. For this reason all her activities have an educational purpose. Playing with dolls, visits and lessons are all part of this education and shape her future behaviour. Keeping a journal is in part intended to encourage Cécile to behave in a way that is not unbecoming, lest her misconduct tarnish this daily account of her doings. Her upbringing in the home is matched by her learning the ways of Lausanne society, and this allows her to try out, copy and absorb from her earliest years the components of a way of life for which she was intended and of which sociability is a part.