JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU IN HIS ARMENIAN GET-UP
by Jean-Jacques Rousseay
p. 1781 (completed in 1765)
Penguin Classics edition published 1953
Translation and Notes by J.M. Cohen
I've actually owned this particular edition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Confessions since my fresh man year of high school. I know that because it's the most elaborately underlined book I own and bears notes in the margins that correspond to my high school hand writing. Of course, I have no memory of talking about this book, although I do, very much, remember other discussions, particularly talking about Homer's The Odyssey in Freshman English.
The Confessions is the second of five books on my "BOTTOM FIVE" books from the 1700s in the 2006 edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die. That's funny, because I've actually owned this book the entire time- and read half of it in high school. Shows my lack of enthusiasm for Rousseau, but after gritting my teeth and wading through all 500 plus pages, he's gained my grudging respect for his originality and over-all contribution to the Romantic movement in arts & literature, which he is justly credited with helping to invent.
Part of what makes The Confessions so very immortal is Rousseau's status as a "persecuted celebrity"- The Confessions often feels closer in spirit to a celebrity tell-all then a serious "auto-biography." Part of what distinguished Rousseau's body of work was his celebration of extreme emotions and his desire to cultivate, rather then repress, those emotions. Also, Rousseau brought a level of personal introspection to literature that had only been found in Confessional religious literature prior to the publication of The Confessions.
Despite his deep, deep desire to portray himself as a "lone wolf" in The Confessions- history tells up otherwise. He was very much buddy/buddy with Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedists of Paris before he entered his Greta Garbo phase. He rose to prominence by winning a national essay contest, and actually wrote The Confessions while he is in England, the guest of English philosopher David Hume.
The Confessions has such a protean quality that it is difficult to do the book justice in a Blog format. Suffice it to say that as an object of contemplation, The Confessions provides the reader hours of interest.