What are some instances in Confessions where the narrator embodies the romantic persona?

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Romanticism put an emphasis on the individual and, even more so, celebrated the unique and original personality who transcended the false constraints of society. Romanticism highly valued feeling (sentiment), revered nature as an antidote to the perceived corruptions of civilization, and saw the child as an innocent being.

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Romanticism put an emphasis on the individual and, even more so, celebrated the unique and original personality who transcended the false constraints of society. Romanticism highly valued feeling (sentiment), revered nature as an antidote to the perceived corruptions of civilization, and saw the child as an innocent being.

Rousseau has been called the father of Romanticism, and with his Confessions, he broke new ground. Nobody had ever written anything like it before. The closest works were the rare autobiography written by a religious figure, such as St. Augustine. Such works focused on the transformation of the fallen individual to a child of God through religious conversion—and gave the credit to God for any personal accomplishments of the writer. For any other person than a religious figure, writing and publishing one's own life story in one's lifetime was considered arrogant and was not done. At best, great individuals—kings, queens, generals, statesmen, great artists, and heroes—would expect to be the subjects of biography after their deaths.

Thus, it was utterly audacious for Rousseau to think that his life was worthy of the kind of examination he gives it in his Confessions. Just the act of writing it meant adopting a Romantic persona, which he does unabashedly from the first lines:

I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent and which, once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself.

It is completely Romantic for Rousseau to declare he is embarking on an utterly original and unique enterprise that can't be imitated (of course, it was, by many people) and to insist that his work was completely true to nature. It was not completely factually true (in fact it has many inaccuracies), but what Rousseau is alluding to is the idea of a "warts and all" version of his life story in which he does not whitewash himself into a conventional figure of moral piety.

Two other examples of Rousseau presenting himself as the Romantic persona are below. In the first, he implies the child is born innocent, like a blank slate, not stained with original sin, and is formed through his environment. This is a quintessentially Romantic idea. It seems normal to us to see children as innocent, but this was radical in an era when children were believed to have been born with original sin:

How could I become wicked, when I had nothing but examples of gentleness before my eyes, and none around me but the best people in the world?

In the second quote, Rousseau asserts the primacy of feeling (sentiment) and asserts his radical individuality, essential ingredients of Romanticism:

Myself alone! I know the feelings of my heart, and I know men. I am not made like any of those I have seen; I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence. If I am not better, at least I am different.

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Confessions is an autobiographical book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This work is viewed as one of the first major autobiographies. Two other major autobiographies were written before: Confessions by Saint Augustine and Life of Herself by Saint Teresa. The previous two autobiographies are primarily religious in nature, while Rousseau’s work is best described as Romantic.

Romantic works focus on the importance of the individual, knowledge gained by self-reflection and assessment of emotions, and the subjectivity of truth.

Romantic works present the individual and the self as the most important method for conveying universal ideas. As such, the narrator emphasizes a number of previous experiences of Rousseau. It is not the scientific method which uncovers truth in Romantic work, but rather self-reflection. Thus, Rousseau relays an incident when he framed a young girl for stealing a ribbon which he himself stole.

Rousseau opens the work with these distinctly Romantic words:

My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself.

Interestingly, many of the dates and events in the autobiography are factually incorrect, meaning they are presented in the wrong order or their dates are not right. It’s interesting that an autobiography would have factually incorrect information, but it actually helps explain the Romantic idea of the subjectivity of truth. An individual’s truth is derived from self-reflection and emotion, so as long as those aspects are correct, the order of events becomes less important to the overall truthfulness presented.

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The concept of the Romantic artist is evident in the very nature of the work.  The idea of a "Confessions" based work is highly Romantic in its nature.  On one level, it is personal.  This makes it significantly Romantic because it does not escape the notion of self.  In fact, it praises it, raises it to the level of deification.  At the same time, it is emotional because of its self- reflective nature, and this lauding of emotions is another representation of the Romantic persona, seeking to integrate emotions into consciousness and not divorce it from them.  Finally, the idea of The Confessions of J.-J. Rousseau helps to bring the notion of subjectivity as of central importance.  This is another aspect of the Romantic experience, as it lauds the self as the most important element in conveying the universal.  For the Romantic, understanding of the universal is not gained through science, but rather through emotional self- reflection, something in which Rousseau actively engages.

The Romantic persona of the tormented individual is something that Rousseau embellishes and almost raises to an unquestioned level.  The divulging of his "discipline" from his tutor, and the complexity within such an element is something that represents the Romantic persona as being "fundamentally different" from everyone else.  Rousseau is almost taking an enjoyment in being seen as "different" and having others "shocked" at what he divulges.  This is consistent with the Romantic persona because it helps to enhance the idea that the Romantic thinker is different than everyone else.  In his depiction of the rather warped relationship Rousseau has with women, the same end of shock and distance is achieved.  Rousseau is able to fulfill the Romantic notion of the artist or protagonist as being misunderstood by society, incapable of being fully grasped.  The Romantic thinker loved this position, for it allowed them the best opportunity to critique and yet be a part of the social order without succumbing to its perceived mind- numbing conformity.

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