75 of 81 people found the following review helpful
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Rousseau's Confessions had been on my book shelf for at least two years before I got motivated to read it. I had started it a few times, but never got beyond the first chapter. I read quite alot, though, and the Confessions seemed to pop up everywhere, in History, Philosophy, and especially in articles on influences in Literature. Flipping through it, it seemed dry and the passages boring and out-of date. But I told myself I must read it, if only to better understand the references that kept drawing from it.
Once I got past the first chapter, I found I simply could not put it down. Admittedly, I had the extra advantage of knowing alot about the period in history and the life of Rousseau himself, but that wasn't the magic of the book. It was Rousseau himself who seemed to come alive through the pages. The tortured honesty on every page which excited and shocked me kept me up late every night until I was finished. There were times I simply had to put the book down, catch my breath a little, and think, "Oh My God! I can't believe it!" After, I realized I had finished one of the best reading experiences of my life. It ranked right up there with "The Red and The Black", "Les Mis", "Crime and Punishment" and "Anna Karenina". This book will live through the ages, I had read a hundred times but dismissed it. I only hope you are more trustful than I.
51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
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There are certain books that are cornerstones in your life. This is one of mine. A lot of the Romantic self-centerdness that marks my character can be traced directly back to this guy. But then again, whatever my expansive vision and love of variety and the vagaries of human nature can also be traced back to this cynical, but at the same time genial soul.
Rousseau, like Voltaire and Diderot, his contemporaries, could look upon his fellow man and himself with both a frown and a smile. He claims at the outset of the work that he is going to show you himself as he honestly is, warts and all. Don't believe him! But don't turn your back on him either, or dismiss him as a liar! You would be denying yourself the company of one of the most charming alluring reconteurs in all of literature, should you do so.
Monsieur Rousseau absolutely loves talking about himself. That sounds like a recipe for boredom, I know. But the trouble is, he's got such a fascinating subject. He knew everyone who was anyone in the 18th century. The women, in particular, were the actual movers and shakers of fin de siecle France. They were figures who presided over literary salons when there actually were literary salons. Madame de Stael is only one matron who looms large in the account. France was basically ruled by powerful and cunning women in that era. Rousseau was there, mentally recording every intimate bon mot and detail.
Then there is his infectious, expansive nature to win you over! Try as you might, self centered as the man is, you can't help liking the guy! He is the ultimate Romantic, in the best sense of the word. He believes in his soul that mankind is noble, that we were put here on earth to enact a divine plan for the benefit of all. That the French Revolution would show a different, Hobbesian side to his theory doesn't really diminish his optimistic, humanistic influence on the Romantic movement and ultimately 19th century literature, in general. He's one of those seminal figures without whom Goethe, the Romantic poets, Blake, Emerson, Whitman, etc. wouldn't have been possible.
This is a great book. Liar, hedger, whatever, you really will get to know this character in all his colors, subterfuges, moods, etc. Love him or hate him, you will have to admit that he's like no one you have ever met. Unfortunately.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
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I'm thrilled to see Amazon books' celebration of Rousseau's
birthday because his writings not only transformed
Enlightenment thought, but also prefigured the emergence of
Romanticism in the nineteenth century. But Rousseau's Confessions
is not just a work for historians. This work is stunning in
its honesty, even to a jaded twentieth-century reader. The
psychological insight is remarkable: As the narrative
progresses, Rousseau's suspicious nature moves into a
chilling paranoia, yet one cannot help but feel compassion
for such a brilliant and beleagered man. Even paranoids
have enemies, and Rousseau certainly had plenty, and his
Confessions provide an insiders view of the Enlightenment,
with all the rivalries and quarrels.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
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Autobiographies are inherently unreliable. We all want to gloss over the embarrassing or wrongful moments in our lives and present ourselves as engaging "packages" to our contemporaries and to posterity. In Jean-Jacques Rousseau's CONFESSIONS, we have an autobiographer who is willing to show you his life -- warts and all.
What strikes many contemporary readers as somewhat whack about Rousseau is that he gave several of his own children up for adoption, thinking they would be better cared for by a charitable institution than at home. Although he never "officially" tied the knot with Thérèse Levasseur in a religious or civil marriage, he was at the very least what we would today call her common law husband.
As with Montaigne in his essay "Of Experience," we are introduced to Rousseau's painful urinary problems. He had to catheterize himself frequently to be able to urinate at all; and toward the end of the book, he talks about adopting an Armenian garb because he could no longer comfortably wear trousers.
Even more painful than the physical was that Rousseau appeared to be a trusting person who tried to make friends, but was frequently betrayed by them. Some of the betrayers include such famous contemporaries of the author's as Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d'Alembert. It is possible that Rousseau had a strong streak of paranoia, as it is unlikely that so many of his ex-friends would form conspiracies against him.
Perhaps in no other book is there such stress laid on the perils of having to seek patronage rather than earning money on one's own merits. I know that, if I were living in 18th century France under the old régime, I, too, would have difficulties because of my own blunt personality. One had to have the manners of a dancing master and the insincerity of a groupie dealing with the notoriously unreliable French nobility of the day.
Although Rousseau earned some money earlier in his career teaching and copying music, he earned little or nothing from his books. In fact, he was frequently cheated by his business partners, some of whom plagiarized and published his texts under their own names.
In the end, we have a great writer telling of his few halcyon moments and the slow downward spiral of his life. Fortunately for us, Jean-Jacques managed to turn the story of his life into one of the greatest autobiographies ever written -- and perhaps the greatest work to come from France in the 18th century, a time crowded with great literary talent.
Cohen's translation dates back many years, but is completely adequate to the purpose.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
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Prior to the appearance of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 'Confessions,' there existed very few real autobiographies. The few that did exist were like St. Augustine's 'Confessions,' designed to impart a religious or moral lesson instead of to exhibit or try to justify one's life. By the time Rousseau came along, however, people had begun to see themselves as individuals, not members of a society governed based on religious or monarchical precepts. So though writing one's autobiography may be old hat now, this was a revolutionary thing in the 18th century. This autobiography is also special in that Jean-Jacques reveals himself warts and all. He doesn't gloss over faults or embarrassing incidents; he exhibits all of himself, both the good and the bad.
This book was highly recommended by the wonderful History of the Enlightenment professor I had my senior year of college, and I was thrilled to find a copy (for only 50 cents!) about 5 years later. I'd been eager to read it based on the professor's lurid descriptions of it. He told us that, among other things, Rousseau revealed that he liked to be spanked, he described his sex life, and he had a very interesting problem centered in his midsection, manifested in how he had urinary problems that always seemed to crop up whenever he was about to be integrated into society, such as one time when he was going to be given some money by the king to further his writing, but his problem struck, and he excused himself and went out into the hall, where he ended up urinating on the floor, unable to hold himself, and was laughed at by the servant-women. I was kind of disappointed that the book didn't turn out as spicy as my professor had made it out to be, but I still loved every moment of it just the same. My professor's teasers of what the book contains were just the tip of the iceberg. Among many other fascinating stories and tidbits, we also learn about such things as his extreme shyness with women he was attracted to, how he was a late bloomer who didn't lose his virginity till he was in his early twenties, how several of the women he was attracted to and had relationships with were older women (among them his first lover, Mme. de Warens, who was far more than just a lover but also his teacher, his mentor, and his patron), how he was beaten horribly by the man he was apprenticed to in Geneva as a teenager, the real story behind why he gave all 5 of his kids away to foundling hospitals, the increasing persecutions and exiles he endured, how he engaged in self-gratification, and how, as a young man, he had advances made to him by two other men (one of them a priest). Although one wonders how much paranoia might have played into these growing conspiracies against him he laments. While there is ample evidence that a number of his former friends turned against him (to say nothing of how he was thrown out of a lot of places he tried to find refuge in after 'The Social Contract' and 'Émile' were banned), it also seems kind of weird that so many people would form all of these vast far-reaching conspiracies against him out of nowhere. Still, Jean-Jacques comes across as such an interesting likeable person, whom just about anyone can relate to, that this obsession with these alleged conspiracies can be overlooked. One wishes that the book covered his whole life and not just from 1712 to 1765, since he's just such an interesting character!
My translation is the one by J.M. Cohen, which is over 50 years old now, but gets the job done in spite of a few dated spots. The basic story remains the same in spite of some dated phrases and language (e.g., does anyone under the age of 100 still use diminutive words like "authoress" or "patroness" anymore?). I also wish there had been an index, particularly since what with so many people coming and going in Jean-Jacques's life (he knew so many famous and prominent people in Enlightenment Europe!), it can be kind of hard to keep track of just who's whom. Still, minor quibbles aside, he was a truly fascinating person, and this classic work of autobiography and the Enlightenment is not to be missed.