Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Confessions of J.-J. Rousseau, commonly known as The Confessions, opens with a proclamation of originality: “I am commencing an undertaking, hitherto without precedent, and which will never find an imitator.” The reasons for the singularity of this undertaking are twofold. First, Rousseau claims to be absolutely honest, to hold back nothing of the “truth of nature.” Second, he feels he is different from all other people, and it is the value of this difference that he desires his reader to judge.
The Confessions were written between 1765 and 1769 in an effort to react to the persecutions that Rousseau suffered even at the hands of former friends. They are divided chronologically into two parts. The first, which follows the formative years of the philosopher, is the most accessible and most often studied. Although much of what he has to tell is embarrassing, Rousseau seems to delight in dwelling on the pleasure that he felt in being spanked by the Mlle Lambercier, the sister of the pastor to whom his early education had been confided. He is willing to indulge his reader in scenes of food stealing while he is serving his apprenticeship and to reveal the humiliation of being replaced by another young man in the affections of Mme de Warens.
There is, in fact, a great difference between the two books, and Rousseau was well aware of this difference. While the first book reveals his confidence in recounting the...
(The entire section is 691 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau undoubtedly succeeded in his effort to write an autobiography of such character that he could present himself before “the sovereign Judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, Thus have I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no crimes, added no virtues.” Rousseau’s revolutionary view of the human psyche led to the flowering of the autobiography as a form of expression. There are few examples before his. Rousseau’s Confessions (full title: The Confessions of J.-J. Rousseau) has been praised as perhaps the first instance of a writer’s being candid and honest with the world about the writer. The book became a model for what, paradoxically, is indeed an art form: being honest, telling all.
Only a person attempting to tell all would have revealed so frankly the sensual satisfaction he received from the spankings administered by Mlle Lambercier, the sister of the pastor at Bossey, who was his tutor. Only a writer finding satisfaction either in truth or self-abasement would have gone on to tell that his passion for being overpowered by women continued throughout his adult life: “To fall at the feet of an imperious mistress, obey her mandates, or implore pardon, were for me the most exquisite enjoyments; and the more my blood was inflamed by the efforts of a lively imagination, the more I acquired the...
(The entire section is 1747 words.)