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«Guai all'uomo che, nei primi momenti di una relazione amorosa, non crede che essa debba durare

Guai a chi nelle braccia della donna che gli si è appena concessa, conserva una funesta chiaroveggenza e
prevede che potrà da lei distaccarsi! Una donna che è trasportata dal suo cuore ha, in quell'istante,
qualcosa di commovente e di sacro. Non è il piacere, non è la natura, non sono i sensi i veri corruttori; ma
i calcoli ai quali la società ci abitua e le riflessioni che l'esperienza fa nascere. Io amavo e rispettavo
Ellénore dopo che mi si era data mille volte più di prima. Passavo con orgoglio tra gli uomini, posando su
di essi uno sguardo dominatore. L'aria che respiravo era di per sé una gioia. Mi prostravo alla natura per
ringraziarla dell'insperato beneficio, del beneficio immenso che si era degnata concedermi».

Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe, first published in 1816, went through three editions before achieving its
final form and remains one of the classics of Europe’s literature, and in certain ways presages the fiction
of Gustave Flaubert. From Wikipedia:

It tells the story of an alienated young man, Adolphe, who falls in love with an older woman, Ellénore, the
Polish mistress of the Comte de P***. Their illicit relationship serves to isolate them from their friends
and from society at large. The book eschews all conventional descriptions of exteriors for the sake of
detailed accounts of feelings and states of mind.

Adolphe is shot through with prose that shimmers over the intersections of psychological fiction and
social philosophy; this passage, with its allusions to Rousseau’s ideas of the alienating nature of society
and the innate purity of “natural man,” reminds one that today it is chiefly as a political philosopher that
Constant is remembered, if at all:

Woe to the man who in the first moments of a love-affair does not believe that it will last forever! Woe to
him who even in the arms of the mistress who has just yielded to him maintains an awareness of the
trouble to come and foresees that he may later tear himself away! At the moment when she abandons
herself to her passion every woman is in a sense touching and sublime. It is not sensual pleasure, not
nature, nor our bodies which corrupt us; it is the scheming to which life in society accustoms us and the
reflections to which experience gives rise. I loved and respected Ellenore a thousand times more after
she had given herself to me. I walked proudly among men and looked upon them with the eye of a
conqueror. The very air I breathed was a pure delight. I eagerly went out to meet nature and thank her for
the immense and unhoped-for gift she had deigned to bestow on me.

— Benjamin Constant, Adolphe