Analysis

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Last Updated February 16, 2024.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 1761 novel Julie, or The New Heloise is seen as one of the most important books of the 18th century and a forerunner to the Romantic movement. It quickly became a bestseller, surpassing even some of Rousseau's more serious works. In The New Heloise, he freely expresses his ideas within the story, giving it significant historical importance. The novel is written in the form of letters exchanged between characters, making it an epistolary novel.

The New Heloise has strong ties to two other works by Rousseau, the Letter to M. d'Alembert and Emile. These connections are evident in the discussions about family life and raising children. Rousseau frequently engages in such discussions in his writings, as he wants children to rely only on their own reasoning abilities once they are educated.

He argues that people can achieve this freedom and ability to think for themselves through a type of education based on nature and natural processes. He advocates for a balanced pursuit of happiness, which he defines as "the equilibrium between desires and faculties." In fact, the pursuit of happiness, the nature of love, and the constraints of society are the main themes of The New Heloise.

Originally titled Julie, the full title of the novel combines two parts: Julie, or the New Heloise, and Letters of Two Lovers Who Live in a Small Town at the Foot of the Alps. And that is exactly what the story is about—two lovers who live in a small town near the foot of the Alps. Set in the "northeastern part of Lake Geneva," in the towns of Vivay and Clarens, The New Heloise is a love story told through letters between Julie and her tutor, Saint Preux.

The novel consists of many types of letters—some expressing love, some criticizing, and some showing happiness or sadness. Even though some letters get really long, Rousseau is more concerned about the emotions they stir in readers than their content. The story unfolds smoothly without a clear villain or antagonist. There are no dramatic plot twists, heavy symbolism, or complicated language. Everything happens naturally, and the most important part is the feelings and emotions of the characters.

Rousseau's goal with the novel is to appeal to people's sentimentality. He wrote it for "real folk" who lead simple lives, have everyday chores and responsibilities, and find comfort in reading. He criticizes young people who think they are wise because they have experienced love. Rousseau even suggests that his book might upset many readers; his writing style could shock and disappoint religious and philosophical people, and maybe only he himself will truly enjoy it.

The style will put off people of taste; the contents will alarm strict people; all the sentiments will be unnatural to those who do not believe in virtue. It is bound to displease the devout, the libertines, the philosophers: it is bound to shock gallant women, and scandalize honest ones. Whom then will it please? Perhaps no one but me: but very certainly it will please no one moderately.

He achieves his goal by focusing on his heroine, Julie, whom he presents as "the modern embodiment of great and tragic passion and spiritual glory." This is why Julie is the new Heloise—the famous "woman of letters," the philosopher of love and friendship.

Rousseau elevates Heloise as the ultimate example of femininity and passion while glorifying Julie by depicting her as a reincarnation of this ideal. The novel thus becomes a romantic celebration of Julie, positioning her as the epitome of love and sacrifice.

In conclusion, The New Heloise is a profound exploration of love and personal fulfillment. Rousseau delves into the complexities of human emotions and relationships, highlighting the importance of individual happiness and authenticity. His work remains a timeless masterpiece that continues to captivate readers with its rich portrayal of the human experience.

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