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Benjamin Constant

Constant, Benjamin (Henri Benjamin Constant de Rebecque)äNrēˈ bäNzhämăNˈ kôNstäNˈ də rəbĕkˈ, 1767–1830, French-Swiss political writer and novelist, b. Lausanne. His affair (1794–1811) with Germaine de Staël turned him to political interests. He accompanied her to Paris in 1795 and served (1799–1801) as a tribune under the first consul, Napoleon. When Mme de Stäel was expelled (1802), however, he went into exile with her, spending the following 12 years in Switzerland and Germany. In 1813 he published a pamphlet attacking Napoleon and urging constitutional government and civil liberties. On Napoleon's return from Elba, however, Constant accepted office under him. After Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo and the restoration of the Bourbons, Constant continued his political pamphleteering, calling for a constitutional monarchy. He served (1819–22, 1824–30) in the chamber of deputies. Constant gained a great reputation as a liberal publicist, and his funeral (shortly after the July Revolution, 1830, which he had supported) was the occasion for great demonstrations. His most important work, the introspective and semiautobiographical novel, Adolphe (1816, tr. 1959), is highly regarded for its style. Parts of his correspondence and journals have been published, the latter as Le Journal intime (1887–89) and Le Cahier rouge [the red notebook] (1907). The discovery of an unfinished novel, Cécile (1951; tr. 1953), has contributed to a new appreciation of Constant's literary merit.

See R. Weingarten, Germaine de Staël and Benjamin Constant: A Dual Biography (2008); studies by H. Nicolson (1949), W. W. Holdheim (1961), and D. Wood (1987).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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