restricted access Conjugal Utopia: Marriage and Social Transformation in Rousseau’s Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse and Leprince de Beaumont’s La Nouvelle Clarice


Utopias represent a crucial means of Enlightenment critique and inquiry. A general eighteenth-century blind spot vis-à-vis women as subjects and sociopolitical agents, as well as the discrepancy between their onerous obligations and incommensurate rights, is thrown into stark relief by two utopias: Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) and Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s La Nouvelle Clarice (1767). The writers’ pedagogical backgrounds inform each novel’s emphasis on a heroine’s education, which determines the utopian program of each society. Though both utopias place women at the centre of a complex social order, Rousseau’s imagined community is predicated on the self-abnegation of the heroine. In contrast, Leprince de Beaumont’s novel requires the male protagonist to re-establish his tainted virtue through marriage and the implementation of a female-dominated utopian community. Through its unmistakeable reversal of La Nouvelle Héloïse’s utopian paradigm, La Nouvelle Clarice functions as a dynamic critique of Rousseau’s seminal plot and provides a striking vision of a matriarchal utopia that simultaneously refuses closure and any limits on women’s political and social activity.