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AUBREY ROSENBERG Julie ou la Nouvelle Heloise Today There have been many accounts, in Rousseau's own day and since, of the enormous success enjoyed by La Nouvelle Heloise, in France and elsewhere , in the latter half of the eighteenth century.' Rousseau himself speaks in the Confessions (I, 545-8) of its initial enthusiastic reception,> and in his correspondence we find numerous letters from people in all walks of life and from all social classes whose praise of Rousseau, following the publication of his novel, bordered on idolatry.' Recently, Claude Labrosse has analysed, in great detail, the reception of Rousseau's novel on its publication in 1761 and the years immediately following4 The reasons for this success are many and varied. They have to do, for example, with the personality of Rousseau himself. In the Confessions (I, 547-8), Rousseau attributes the novel's popularity with women to their belief that it was autobiographical, a belief he does nothing to dispel. Rousseau's remarkable style as well as the form chosen to tell his story and express his ideas must also be considered as important factors. Epistolary novels with their mixture of eroticism and didacticism were fashionable in the eighteenth century as was the history of HeloIse and Abelard, although Rousseau's novel is only marginally related to its medieval source.5 The popularity of La Nouvelle HeIoise persisted into the early part of the nineteenth century, but as 'romanticism' moved towards 'realism: it fell out of favour, as, indeed, did all of Rousseau's works.6 In the eighteenth century, the novel found favour more with the general public than with the intellectual elite: 'A l'apparition de La Nouvelle Heloise, les lecteurs furent extremement nombreux ... Mais bient6t ils se trouverent partages en deux classes: les gens de lettres et Ie public. Les gens de lettres rejeterent, autant qu'ils purent, l'eflet de l'ouvrage; Ie public s'y livra de bonne foi.'7 By the following century, however, even the general reader was ready for a change, if not in content, at least in form and style. Eventually, then, epistolary and first-person novels, with their dubious claims to authenticity, gave way to the authority of the omniscient author/narrator. Rousseau and his writings remained largely neglected until after the First World War, when a tentative reappraisal began that has culminated, in the years since the Second World War, in an almost complete reversal UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 60, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1990/1 266 AUBREY ROSENBERG of the situation in the eighteenth century when the public appreciated Rousseau and the philosophes rejected him. Nowadays, it is the academics who have brought about what one critic has referred to as the canoni2ation of Rousseau, while the general reader is aware of him more through his reputation than his writings. For despite the fact that several of his works, including La Nouvelle HeIoise, are available in popular French editions in bookstores, railway stations, and airports, along with, for example, La Princesse de Cleves, Manon Lescau/, and Les Liaisons dangereuses , sales figures for Rousseau's novel are probably not equal to those for the others just cited, or even for his Confessions.8 Not that sales figures in themselves are a necessarily reliable guide to the extent to which a book is actually read. Not everyone who buys a book reads it in its entirety, if at all. There are books, for example, clearly not addressed to a 'popular' audience, and certainly beyond the comprehension of such a public, that suddenly turn into best-sellers to the mystification and delight of author and publisher. Umberto Eco and Allan Bloom, for example, have both expressed surprise at the remarkable sales figures produced by The Name of the Rose and The Closing of the American Mind. A book often makes a convenient birthday, holiday, or graduation present, for the buyer if not for the recipient. It is true that Eco's book was turned into a film, as have been the novels of Mme de Lafayette, Prevost, and Laclos. La Nouvel/e HeIoise, however, has not been accorded that modern hallmark of popularity and, outside of academic circles, it has...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 265-273
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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