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Made with Hugo and the Cocoa theme
© Patrick O'Donovan 1986–2019

'Constant's notes from the underground'

Displacement is a recurrent factor in the life and work of Benjamin Constant, encompassing flight, retreat, exile and precarious rehabilitation, amorous pursuit and ambivalent drift. The publication of Adolphe, the novel for which he is best known, occurred in one such period of enforced mobility. Constant’s identity was shaped by diaspora: his family was Huguenot. Even so, in the most active periods of his career in France, he was often attacked as a Swiss interloper, as a chameleon. His apparent rootlessness is connected also to psychological displacements, of whose effects he was painfully aware. The paper takes a binocular approach, looking, first, at all of the facets of displacement in Constant’s life and work (including affective displacement, displaced affections, displacement and self-division, political displacement, retreat and its implications for writing) and, second, at the several displacements occasioned by the Hundred Days and the years that followed it, in the course of which Constant consolidated his position as a leading liberal thinker and political actor. This second part will also include a dual reading of Adolphe and of Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, and will consider what the subsequent reception of Constant’s novel owes to its depiction of a displaced subjectivity and to what can be termed its poetics of displacement.