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Confessions and Correspondence, Including the Letters to Malesherbes

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Publication Year: 2013

When Rousseau first read his Confessions to a 1770 gathering in Paris, reactions varied from admiration of his candor to doubts about his sanity to outrage. Indeed, Rousseau's intent and approach were revolutionary. As one of the first attempts at autobiography, the Confessions' novelty lay not in just its retelling the facts of Rousseau's life, but in its revelation of his innermost feelings and its frank description of the strengths and failings of his character.

Based on his doctrine of natural goodness, Rousseau intended the Confessions as a testing ground to explore his belief that, as Christopher Kelly writes, "people are to be measured by the depth and nature of their feelings." Re-created here in a meticulously documented new translation based on the definitive Pleiade edition, the work represents Rousseau's attempt to forge connections among his beliefs, his feelings, and his life. More than a "behind-the-scenes look at the private life of a public man," Kelly writes, "the Confessions is at the center of Rousseau's philosophical enterprise."

Published by: Dartmouth College Press

Series: Collected Writings of Rousseau


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p. 5-5


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p. 6-6

Series List

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p. vi-vi

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pp. vii-viii

...Although Jean-Jacques Rousseau is a significant figure in the Western tradition, there is no standard edition of his major writings available in English. Unlike those of other thinkers of comparable stature, moreover, many of Rousseau's important works either have never been translated or have become unavailable. The present...

Chronology of Events Reported in the Confessions

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pp. ix-xvi

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pp. xvii-xxxiv

...Almost immediately after leaving, one of the listeners wrote a letter in which he said that he had been moved to tears by the noble frankness with which Rousseau admitted his faults. Another later commented on the extreme, or even mad, desire for notoriety that must be the source of Rousseau's enterprise. Upon learning about this and subsequent readings...

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Note on the Text

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pp. xxxv-xxxvi

...publisher Marc-Michel Rey, whose acquaintance he had made in 1754, had been urging him to write his memoirs for a long time. Rey was hoping for a sketch of Rousseau's life to be included as an introduction to a collection his writings. Rousseau probably began to contemplate the project seriously and to assemble materials for it sometime...

The Confessions

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p. 1-1

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First Part

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pp. 1-4

...Here is the only portrait of a man, painted exactly according to nature and in all its truth, that exists and that will probably ever exist. Whoever you may be whom my destiny or my trust has made the arbiter of the fate of this notebook, I entreat you by my misfortunes, by your...

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Book I

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pp. 5-37

...Let the trumpet of the last judgment sound when it will; I shall come with this book in my hands to present myself before the Sovereign Judge.71 shall say loudly, "Behold what I have done, what I have thought, what I have been. I have told the good and the evil with the same frankness: I have been silent about nothing bad, added nothing good...

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Book II

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pp. 38-73

...The moment I executed the project of flight appeared just as charming to me as the moment when fear suggested it to me had appeared sad. While I was still a child, to leave my country, my relatives, my protection, my resources, to leave a half-finished apprenticeship without knowing...

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Book III

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pp. 74-110

...Having left Mme de Vercellis's in almost the same condition as I had entered it, I returned to my former landlady's, and stayed there for five or six weeks, during which health, youth, and idleness often rendered my temperament importunate. I was restless, heedless, a dreamer...

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Book IV

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pp. 111-147

...I arrive and find her there no longer. Judge my surprise and my pain! That is when regret at having abandoned M. Le Maitre in a cowardly manner began to make itself felt. It was even sharper when I learned the misfortune that had befallen him. Upon arriving at Lyon his music chest, which contained his whole fortune, that precious chest—saved...

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pp. 148-188

...on the survey in the King's service. I had passed twenty years, almost twenty-one. I was formed well enough for my age on the side of mind, but my judgment was hardly formed, and I very much needed the hands into which I was falling in order to learn how to conduct myself: for several years of experience...

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Book VI

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pp. 189-230

......Here begins the short happiness of my life; here come the peaceful but quickly passing moments which have given me the right to say that I have lived. Precious and regretted moments, ah begin your lovable course for me again; flow more slowly in my remembrance, if it is possible......

Second Part

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Book VII

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pp. 233-292

...My peaceful youth has been seen to flow by in an even life that was sweet enough, without great setbacks or great prosperity. That ordinariness was in large part the work of my ardent but feeble natural character, even less prompt to undertake than it was easy to discourage, leaving repose as a result of jolts, but returning to it out of lassitude...

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pp. 293-336

...I was obliged to make a pause at the end of the preceding Book. With this one begins the long chain of my misfortunes in its first origin. Having lived in two of the most brilliant houses of Paris, I had not failed to make some acquaintances in spite of my lack of aplomb. Among others, at Mme Dupin's I had made that of the young crown prince of Saxe-Gotha and of his Tutor the Baron de...

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Book IX

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pp. 337-409

...me to wait for the return of the fine weather, and as soon as my lodging was ready, I hastened to make my way there, to the great hoots of the Holbachic coterie, who loudly predicted that I would not bear three months of solitude, and that in a little while they would see me return with my tail between my legs to live like them in Paris. As...

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Book X

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pp. 410-455

...The extraordinary strength which a momentary effervescence had given me in order to leave the Hermitage abandoned me as soon as I was out of it. I had hardly settled in my new residence when sharp and frequent attacks of my retentions became compounded with the new discomfort of a hernia that tormented me for some time...

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Book XI

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pp. 456-492

...Although Julie, which had been in press for a long time, had not yet appeared at the end of 1760, it began to cause a great commotion. Mme de Luxembourg had spoken about it at Court, Mme d'Houdetot at Paris. This latter had even obtained permission from me for St. Lambert to have it read in manuscript to the King of Poland who had been...

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Book XII

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pp. 493-550

...Here begins the work of darkness in which I have found myself enshrouded for the past eight years without having been able to penetrate its frightening obscurity no matter what I might try to do about it. In the abyss of evils in which I am submerged, I feel the contact of the blows that are aimed at me, I perceive their immediate instrument...

Appendix I: Letters Referred to in the Text of the Confessions

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pp. 551-584

Appendix II: Fragments

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pp. 585-594


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pp. 595-686


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pp. 687-702

E-ISBN-13: 9781611682885
E-ISBN-10: 1611682886
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874517071

Page Count: 736
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Trans. from the French
Series Title: Collected Writings of Rousseau

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Subject Headings

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 1712-1778.
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 1712-1778 -- Correspondence.
  • Malesherbes, Chrétien Guillaume de Lamoignon de, 1721-1794 -- Correspondence.
  • Authors, French -- 18th century -- Biography.
  • Authors, French -- 18th century -- Correspondence.
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