L’expression Du Sentiment Dans L’oeuvre De Benjamin Constant

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This is the first only work to date that attempts to consider the works of the Swiss author and theoretician, Benjamin Constant (1767-1830), from the perspective of his little known treatise on religion. Constant’s work on religion, published in seven volumes from 1824 to 1833, in fact represents the development of the notion of sentiment. Individual sentiment is the defining notion of human beings, the trait which best distinguishes our species from other animal species. The first part of the work is a close reading of Constant’s religious works, followed by an examination of his political writings. The final part, which deals with his literary works, shows that the notions of sentiment, of society and social forces, of opinion and individual freedom run throughout these works, where they generally take the form of maxims. In French.


“…Kocay has now widened his perspective considerably not only to take in the many maximes in the Journaux intimes and the correspondence of Constant, but also to explore what he sees as lying behind those pithy observations: the notion of feeling, ‘le sentiment’….the expedition is worth it since it throws new light on such central ideas in Constant’s writings as human perfectibility and ‘la douceur des moeurs’…..In subsequent chapters Kocay examines the complex meanings of ‘le sentiment’ in Constant’s political writings, literary works, and private letters. This careful and thought-provoking study can be recommended to all students of Constant.” – Modern Language Review

“Victor Kocay’s analysis helps us, on the one hand, to restore balance and global appreciation to our reading of Constant, and, on the other, to glimpse the teeming complexities, paradoxes and nuances that yet give his work, his thought an at once purposive and instinctual unity. That the concept of feeling or sentiment lies not only at the heart of Constant’s work but at the center of the major literary, philosophical and even ‘existential’ tension and developments at play in Europe during Constant’s lifetime, makes Kocay’s study all the more interesting and worthy. . . . Rigour and critical care are everywhere in evidence; readableness and expressive grace, equally so. The study is scholarly, serious systematic, yet never laborious, heavy, assertions always being queried and widely judged.” – Michael Bishop

“This is a very well-researched and insightful study of an unjustly neglected aspect of this important French romantic writer and political thinker. . . . Perhaps the most original aspect of Victor Kocay’s solid book is his application of Constant’s writings on religion to Constant’s masterpiece Adolphe. His discussion of Adolphe will enable fellow scholars to appreciate deeper levels of meanings in Constant’s richly ambiguous fictional autobiography. This is a solid work of research which I recommend highly.” – Edmund J. Campion

“Kocay works his way through the treatises on religion .... meticulously, insightfully, and carefully encodes the expansive dynamics of sentiment: the vagaries, the complexities, the nuances…..Victor Kocay has made an important contribution to Constant Studies. Even those whose skepticism may not have been completely assuaged will come away the richer for the reading.” – Nineteenth-Century French Studies

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