The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his good Theresa

The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his good Theresa. 

The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is the autobiography of writer, composer, and philosopher Rousseau (1712-1778), written in 1782. 

Born in Geneva, his mother died in childbirth, and his watchmaker father raised him until the age of ten. From ten to sixteen years of age, he lived with his mother’s family. He left at the age of sixteen to travel—first to Sardinia and then to France. He reached Paris when he was thirty years old.

Rousseau’s autobiography is linear, commencing with his birth. Book 1 focuses on his childhood and apprenticeship from 1712-1728. Books 2 and 3 cover three years from 1728 from the age of sixteen, when he travels into ‘the vast theatre of the world’ and ends in 1731 having been in Sardinia. Book 4 is one year from 1731-1732 about his young loves. Book 5 from 1732-1736 includes the work years in Chambery in south-east France—and here his autobiography starts to get interesting and amusing. 

Book 6 is one year: 1736. He begins,

‘At this moment began the short happiness of my life, those peaceful and rapid moments, which have given me a right to say, I have lived.’

He continues,

‘I rose with the sun, and was happy; I walked, and was happy; I saw Madam de Warrens, and was happy; I quitted her, and still was happy!’

After some empty years in which he does not write at all, he resumes in 1741. In Book 7 he realizes that he has spent an idle youth, and as he nears thirty, he is determined to make changes—which covers 20 years in Books 7-11, predominantly in Paris, Geneva, and Venice. 

In Paris, he befriends Denis Diderot, a French philosopher and co-founder of the Encyclopedia. Rousseau contributes some chapters, including one on political economy written in 1755.

Rousseau also met Voltaire. These are his most productive years. Towards the end of these twenty years, from 1756 there are also the ‘good Theresa’ years. 

In Book 12, from 1762, he begins with ‘Here commences the work of darkness … the shame and the misfortune.’ Here are his confessions. It has taken a long time to get to his confessions. 

On his tears of joy after seeing Theresa again, after a two-month separation, he wonders why he hasn’t cried with joy more often. He berates himself for not expressing his emotions for her before, instead of being restrained in love. At the age of 56 in 1768, after 23 years living with Theresa, Rousseau finally weds his good Theresa. 

Rousseau was an influential figure of the times, transforming education and children’s rights, and changing the way people thought of music, the arts, and nature. His writing is easy-to-read, detailed, and quite fascinating.   

He is buried in the Pantheon in Paris.

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