Issue 2010, number 35: summaries
La traduction en anglais des résumés publiés dans le n°35 a été assurée par le professeur Dennis Wood.
María Luisa Sánchez-Mejía and Kurt Kloocke
«The Spanish Inquisition’s file on Benjamin Constant’s Principes de politique applicables à tous les gouvernemens représentatifs»
This article enlarges considerably on what we said in our earlier contribution to the Annales Benjamin Constant (no34, 2009, p. 9-44, and in particular p. 38-44) on the subject of the condemnation of Benjamin Constant’s Principes de politique (1815 version) by the Spanish Inquisition. The file concerning the Inquisition’s proceedings (which we discovered as the earlier article was going to press, see p. 39, n. 66) is the focus of this second article, which contains a brief historical survey of the Spanish Inquisition, all necessary information about the people mentioned in the file in the Inquisition’s Archives, a description of the documents, an analysis of the censors’ reports which led to the condemnation of Constant’s book, and finally the full text of the file with a French translation.
«Benjamin Constant and interpreting the Terror»
Now that the Terror has become an increasing focus of interest for historians, it seems appropriate to consider once again Benjamin Constant’s contribution to understanding this sombre and controversial episode of the French Revolution. In order to do this, the present article will first analyse the pamphlet Des effets de la Terreur [On the Effects of the Terror] which appeared during the Directory in 1797, and then examine the recast version of the same text which was published in 1829 in the Mélanges de littérature et de politique [Literary and Political Miscellany]. It will demonstrate that the excesses of the Terror in 1793-1794 inspired a particularly original and influential line of thought which has endured to the present day. Taken up by Edgar Quinet and later by the «critical school» of François Furet and Mona Ozouf, Constant’s analysis initiated a decisively new way of understanding the Terror. Thus to return to Constant is to rediscover the source of an important tradition in the writing of history.
«Divisions among liberals at the time of the 1818 elections»
While the election of deputies to the Chamber in 1818 is traditionally considered one of the first political successes of the liberals, Benjamin Constant himself experienced his second electoral setback since 1817. Although his name went forward as a candidate in several départements, but most especially to be a deputy for the Seine département, he was defeated there by the industrialist Guillaume-Louis Ternaux, largely as a result of intriguing by the ministry. Historians, however, have traditionally played down the fact that the liberals themselves were not free from blame in Constant’s failure to be elected. There were tensions within the «party» several months before the election took place, and the liberals had difficulty in deciding which candidate would receive their vote in October: Constant, the lawyer Manuel, or the magistrate Gilbert de Voisins. This procrastination and dissension which lasted for several months compromised the unity of the «liberal party», damaged its ability to coordinate its activities to the full for the election, and perhaps put paid in advance to Constant’s candidature. This article sets out to demonstrate that even though Constant was elected for the Sarthe a few months later, the road ahead for him in politics was not yet an easy one and that there was opposition to him not only in the ministry but also within his own «political family» whose uncontested and untouchable standard-bearer he had not yet by common acclaim become.
«Isabelle de Charrière’s correspondent Benjamin Constant: "I like to speak myself, especially when you’re listening."»
The letters exchanged by Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) et Isabelle de Charrière (1740-1805) between June 1787 and December 1795 show that their need to write often arose from their current preoccupations. Sometimes the reader is led to look for or to imagine the chance occurrences and misapprehensions which lie behind their correspondence, and it is then that we turn to meta-epistolary commentaries which alleviate any risk of our misunderstanding. The constraints involved in letter-writing at the end of the eighteenth century are often mentioned by scholars, constraints which had much to do with how the postal service was organized in that period. For these two writers, however, letters are a way of escaping from the reality of the present and of broadening the horizons of their lives. Letters allow them to express their wishes and their dreams, something which Isabelle encourages because of her love of freedom of expression, which she sees as a way of gaining access to all that is best in her. For Benjamin Constant there is an opposition between the material constraints of letter-writing and intellectual and moral freedom. Over the months and years of Benjamin Constant’s correspondence with Isabelle de Charrière he is able to envisage a possible vocation as a writer: the letters in which he sketches out for her his creative projects, become, as it were, the matrix of his future work. Isabelle de Charrière encourages his literary aspirations by her comments. But gradually the young man who had once so wanted to be listened to, becomes more distant and shows a desire for independence, thereby allowing us to gauge the real need he had felt to be listened to and understood as a means of finding his way in life. This epistolary exchange, in its intermittent way (since letter-writing is necessarily fragmented and discontinuous), allows us a glimpse of a writer in the making.
Etienne Hofmann and Philippe Kaenel
«Benjamin Constant artist or caricaturist ?»
Drawings found on certain pages of Constant’s manuscripts have given rise to a question: are they the work of the author of Adolphe? Two recently discovered and precisely attributable drawings lead us to think that they were indeed the work of Constant. Are they genuine caricatures, notably of his fellow deputies in the Chamber, since they seem to have been drawn during the period when Constant was a member of the French parliament? While the present article does not claim to resolve the mystery definitively – one moreover which is not particularly important for the analysis of Constant’s work, it does nevertheless show what is now known about this hitherto unexplored aspect of Constant’s activities.
«The Swiss-French "purgatory" of Benjamin Constant during the nineteenth century»
Unlike Rousseau or Mme de Staël, who were increasingly viewed as Swiss by Swiss-French literary historians during the nineteenth century, Benjamin Constant was persistently ostracized, by critics from Juste Olivier and Vinet to Godet and Rossel, who in 1890 wrote the first histories of Swiss-French literature. If Sainte-Beuve’s relentless hostility to Benjamin goes some way to explaining this antagonism, the principal reason for Constant’s rejection was the Protestant morality with which French-Swiss literature was imbued at that time. The multidisciplinary and multifacetted nature of Constant’s work was a further obstacle to his entering the literary pantheon. It was not until Rudler’s ground-breaking study of Constant’s early years that the writer and his work were rehabilitated.