The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau

by J J Rousseau

Other authorsW Conyngham Mallory (Translator)
Hardcover, 1928




Tudor Publishing Company (1928), Edition: First


Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML: In addition to making his mark as a prominent philosopher, educational theorist, and musician, renaissance man Jean-Jacques Rousseau was also a pioneer in the genre of autobiographical writing. When his multi-book series Confessions was first published, it marked one of the most original entries in the literary category of autobiographies in centuries..

User reviews

LibraryThing member datrappert
Very entertaining, even without a deep background in the era about which Rousseau is writing. He is apparently making up, or mis-remembering a great deal of it, but that isn't really the point. It's seeing a man of over 200 years ago come to life completely. His paranoia is a little annoying after
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a while, since none of the horrible things he thinks are happening seem to really have that much effect on him. This is one of those classics that truly is a classic when you pick it up.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Surprisingly readable translation. Paper very acidic, browned throughout. Jacket back, flaps still with book. Signed "Barbara Donnelly". Street sale in Greenwich Village 1988.
LibraryThing member libraryhermit
Read this in English Penguin edition when I was in my 20s and now in my late 40s I would like to go back and read it in the French original. At the time of the first reading, I had really very little idea of the milieu in which it was written. Now I have a bit deeper perspective on this period. It
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will probably make a lot more sense now.
Along with St. Augustine, Rousseau was promoted to me as one of the pioneers of the genre of autobiography, warts and all, as another reviewer of this book has put it.
Perhaps a third individual could be added, and maybe should be added, to this group: Benvenuto Cellini. I also have that book and have started but not finished it yet. When that is all done, maybe I could compare all three together.
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
The jacket explains that this book was revolutionary when it was published, but it didn't move me at all. I found him a bit of a whinger, somewhat unsympathetic and naieve. The opening section was interesting, exploring how his character had been shaped by experiences when young, but it fell awfuly
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flat in the middle and turned into a recitation of ills towards the end.
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LibraryThing member MarkBeronte
Widely regarded as the first modern autobiography, "The Confessions" is an astonishing work of acute psychological insight. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) argued passionately against the inequality he believed to be intrinsic to civilized society. In his "Confessions" he relives the first
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fifty-three years of his radical life with vivid immediacy - from his earliest years, where we can see the source of his belief in the innocence of childhood, through the development of his philosophical and political ideas, his struggle against the French authorities and exile from France following the publication of "Emile". Depicting a life of adventure, persecution, paranoia, and brilliant achievement, "The Confessions" is a landmark work by one of the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment, which was a direct influence upon the work of Proust, Goethe and Tolstoy among others.
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LibraryThing member JVioland
A wonderful autobiography from a brilliant mind. Rousseau's story is all here including his many admitted vices. In reading this work, I not only was impressed with his humanity but with his kindness - and yet he abandoned a child he fathered. Quite an interesting man. I also discovered that
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pedophilia and homosexuality had been a problem within the Catholic Church at least since he had attended a seminary while a youth and, despite his attempts to seek redress against a colleague from the establishment, he was disciplined. It caused him to re-evaluate his faith. Kind of prophetic.
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LibraryThing member deckla
A model of self analysis, engagingly endless. The self doubt of the exceptional is reassuring. Though the translator is the same, my copy's cover is a detail of a drawing of Rousseau by Maurice Quentin-de-la-Tour.
LibraryThing member Joanna.Conrad
It's a toss-up which book is worse, Confessions, or Crime and Punishment, which was about a whiny spoiled brat neglecting to notice how everyone around him is breaking their back for his benefit - or notices, but doesn't care. Here, Rousseau notices and claims to care, but calls them suckers for
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doing so.
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
Read Books One and Two for my course.

The translation is excellent - it never read as though it had been written in another language. I found this entertaining - Rousseau's apparent desire to be absolutely honest, paired with his justifications and his touching belief in how exceptional he is.

I will
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go on and read the rest when I have more time.
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LibraryThing member Cecrow
Rousseau wrote his memoirs in two portions, two years apart, though they are now normally published together. The first half covers from childhood to when he is a young man finding independence, and sets the template for future memoirs by other authors by its ascribing importance to influences and
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'dishing the dirt' on every aspect of his life. Rousseau's excruciating effort to tell all dated back to his first writings in the 1750s when he challenged the popular view of progress and set the pattern for living a life which would reflect the beliefs he professed. His confessions probably offered more honesty than contemporary readers bargained for, by not shying away from topics that lay outside the bounds of polite society when it was published four years after his death. Hopefully it was not the cause of too much trouble, since he did not varnish his version of the truth about others any more than himself.

While his attempt at honesty seems earnest, he lacks some personal insight that would have helped guide his pen. He is poor at foreshadowing, often claiming such-and-such was his last moment of happiness but then describing another happy interlude; claiming a tragedy awaits on the next page, but then not really living up to its billing. He over-inflates events in his life that may have cut him to the quick but do not seem so deserving of the impact he allows them. Some faults he can't recognize or name that we know today as "middle age crisis" or "making an ass of himself", and his over-indulgence in self-pity can be very annoying in places. He is far too quick to award himself title to a uniquely noble soul, and to suspect the motives and nature of others when he would prefer to cast the blame afield. He wants again and again to be understood for his intentions rather than his words and actions, but he's not willing to extend the same grace to others.

Part two of these confessions (the latter six parts of twelve) takes a darker turn. Rousseau removes his rose-coloured glasses when inspecting the more recent years of his life and, while the tone remains the same, the content becomes that of a man defending himself against libel. At the same time some of his own darkest episodes occur here, as much a factor of his times (to judge from how cavalier he is about them) as of himself. There is the episode, for example, where he and another man adopt a girl and raise her with the intention of betraying her innocence once she comes of age. Happily they do not follow through, but this was apparently a socially acceptable plan. Similarly, he has little compunction (only excusing himself by saying he was drunk) in partaking of another man's obviously reluctant kept child in Paris. In another vein, he is defensive but sees little wrong with how he coerced his wife to give up their newborn babe to an orphanage. So little wrong, in fact, he made her do the same thing four more times with every child they had together, although he does experience guilt about it (not actual regret) later in life.

His unacknowledged faults extend to the intellectual sphere. Charged with editing the posthumous words of the Abbe de Saint-Pierre, Rousseau cannot commit to supporting the messages of a man who so firmly viewed humanity as being invested with the power of reason. Rousseau is entirely dismissive of the idea that "men are governed by their reason rather than by their passions,", suggesting that the Abbe was "working only for imaginary beings." This belief goes a long way to explaining some of Rousseau's subsequent actions in his personal life, and his perception of their fallout.

Rousseau's confessions were far more engaging than I'd anticipated, even through the less entertaining second half. The historic value of this memoir is undeniable, and the value of the model it set for autobiography going forward. It also establishes a basis for how readers should interpret such works. Rousseau's quest for honesty was for his readers' (and reputation's) sake, but he had too many blind spots to be successfully honest with himself. Thus it provides a textbook case of a memoir that is as significant for what it doesn't acknowledge as what it does.
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LibraryThing member DrT
Book title and author: Confessions (1782) By Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“The Confessions Of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
By Jean Jacques Rousseau
(In 12 books)
Privately Printed for the Members of the Aldus Society
London, 1903

The Confessions is an autobiographical book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In
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modern times, it is often published with the title The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in order to distinguish it from Saint Augustine's Confessions. Covering the first fifty-three years of Rousseau's life, up to 1765, it was completed in 1769, but not published until 1782, four years after Rousseau's death, even though Rousseau did read excerpts of his manuscript publicly at various salons and other meeting places.
Rousseau's work is notable as one of the first major autobiographies. Prior to the Confessions, the two great autobiographies were Augustine's own Confessions and Saint Teresa's Life of Herself. However, both of these works focused on the religious experiences of their authors; the Confessions was one of the first autobiographies in which “an individual wrote of his own life mainly in terms of his worldly experiences and personal feelings. Rousseau recognized the unique nature of his work; it opens with the famous words: "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." His example was soon followed: not long after publication, many other writers (such as Goethe, Wordsworth, Stendhal, De Quincey, Casanova and Alfieri) wrote their own autobiographies in a similar fashion.
The Confessions is noted for its detailed account of Rousseau's more humiliating and shameful moments. For instance, Rousseau recounts an incident when, while a servant, he covered up his theft of a ribbon by framing a young girl – who was working in the house – for the crime. In addition, Rousseau explains the manner in which he disposes of the five children he had with Thérèse Levasseur.
Pope Pius VII placed The Confessions on the list of prohibited books of the Roman Index of 1806. In France, it was also among the works which Etuenne Antoine, “bishop of Troyne, condemned in 1821 as godless and sacrilegious, and under canonical law, he prohibited the printing or selling the book within the territory of the diocese. U.S. Customs banned the book from entry in 1929, but revered the ban the following year.”

Why I picked this book up: this was the next book in the Banned Books Compendium: 32 Classic Forbidden Books that I won in April 2023. “Confessions was banned by U.S. Customs in 1929 as injurious to public morality. His philosophical works were also banned in the USSR in 1935.” and I wanted to know why. So far this is the 11th book and really, imo, I haven’t really liked many of them.

Thoughts: It starts as a child and this opened my eyes to what it would be like growing up where he did and comparing how blessed I have been through life. The difficulty of lacking, temptation, $, desire, theft/stealing and vices. It seemed to me he wanted to be be seen for his intent and not so much for his actions. Later, more darker aspects in life are written that sickened me how he intended to adopt and raise a little girl to betray her innocence but he didn’t. He seemed to have some guilt but not regret.

Why I finished this read: overall, I did not appreciate this book. I’m not cleaning to be perfect and I understand hr laid out this life, thoughts but I had no real desire to finish but I did so I can close the book. I will never read it again.

Stars rating: 2 of 5 because the first section I appreciated his self focus and development then it turned to hinge I do not appreciate and want gone.
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LibraryThing member jonbrammer
Really just an astonishing memoir, and not at all what I was expecting. Instead of a dry, didactic, rationalist, Enlightenment-era reflection, this is a warts-and-all, somewhat unreliable, page-turner that includes several jaw-dropping revelations. He gave all five of his children away to a
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foundling hospital!! He shacked up with his mistress Therese (who was the daughter of his servant). He was involved in at least one menage a trois.

The Confessions does not include any discussion of Rousseau's philosophy, although through his gradual turn to misanthropy and his retreat to nature, he exemplifies a sort of proto-Romantic hero. Because his work was considered heretical by the Jesuits in France, he was forced into exile and spent several years running from one safe haven to another. The Confessions is the earliest memoir I have read that feels contemporary. Augustine's Confessions were written ultimately to make converts; Rousseau on the other hand, wants to tell the truth of his life.
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