Rousseau’s Occasional Autobiographies
Susan K. Jackson
Literary Criticism / European / French; Philosophy / General
280 pp. 6x9
$24.95 paper 978-0-8142-5331-1
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In this lively study of autobiography in the making, Susan K. Jackson looks at the ways in which Rousseau’s earlier occasional work informed his later autobiographical masterpiece, Confessions, which some have credited with initiating autobiography in its modern form.
Jackson’s study begins with the premise that Confessions did not represent the first time that Rousseau became interested in writing the story of his own life, although Rousseau himself claimed it was. Rather, Jackson traces his preoccupation with autobiography, which she shows began as early as 1752, through many of his occasional and less well–known works. Reading Confessions in tandem with a series of texts that Rousseau insisted were occasional (texts that include personal Lettres in response to Malesherbes and belles–lettres of purported response to the official condemnation of his own Emile), Jackson shows that Rousseau did not suddenly leap into autobiography as a way to challenge prevailing philosophical and literary limits. Time and time again, Rousseau encoded himself in earlier works; therefore, Jackson argues, Confessions can only be fully appreciated if read in conjunction with earlier self–inscribed works. Jackson goes on to place Rousseau and his writing within the wider subject of autobiography in contemporary culture, to reconsider the definition of autobiography itself, and to look at the role of initial forays into self–portraiture in regard to authorized autobiography.
Jackson’s original study, detailing as it does the adventure of creating autobiography, makes a significant contribution to Rousseau studies but will also be of interest to scholars of autobiography, as well as those interested in literary and publishing history.
Susan K. Jackson is Assistant Professor of French at Boston University.