Short summary - Confessions - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Confessions
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“I told the truth. If anyone knows anything contrary to what is told here, he knows only lies and slander. "
The author of these lines calls his first misfortune his own birth, which cost the life of his mother. The child grows up, showing the defects inherent in his age; “I was a chatterbox, a gourmand, a liar sometimes,” Jean-Jacques admits. Separated from his father since childhood, he falls under the care of his uncle, and he gives him to study. From the punishments of the mentor, an early sensuality awakens in an eight-year-old boy, which left an imprint on all his subsequent relationships with the fair sex. “All my life I longed for and remained silent in front of the women whom I loved most,” the author writes, making “the first and most painful step in the dark and dirty labyrinth” of his confessions. The teenager is given to the engraver as an apprentice; at this time, for the first time, he shows a thirst for theft. “In essence, these thefts were very innocent, since everything that I carried from the owner was used by me to work for him,” Jean-Jacques chides himself. Simultaneously with addictions, a passion for reading awakens in him, and he reads everything. At sixteen, Jean-Jacques is a young man "restless, dissatisfied with everything and himself, without affection for his craft."
Suddenly, the young man drops everything and goes to wander. Fate brings him to the charming twenty-eight-year-old Madame de Varence, between them a relationship is struck, which largely determined the life of Jean-Jacques. Madame de Varence convinces the young man to convert from Protestantism to Catholicism, and he goes to Turin, in a refuge for new converts. Having escaped after the completion of the ceremony, he leads a carefree life, walks around the city and its environs and falls in love with all pretty women. “Never before have the passions been so strong and so pure as mine; love has never been more tender, more disinterested, ”he recalls. When he runs out of money, he goes to a certain countess as a lackey. In her service, Jean-Jacques commits an offense, which he then regrets all his life: taking a silver ribbon from the mistress, he accuses the young servant of this theft. The girl is kicked out, her reputation is irreparably damaged. The desire to finally confess this sin is one of the reasons that prompted him to write this confession. Jean-Jacques' mistress dies; a young man joins a wealthy family as a secretary. He studies a lot and diligently, and avenues for further career advancement are opening up for him. However, the desire for vagrancy overpowers, and he is sent back to Switzerland. Having reached his native land, he appears to Madame de Varence. She happily accepts him, and he settles in her house. Madame de Varence puts him in a singing school, where he thoroughly studies music. But the very first concert, which young Jean-Jacques dares to give, fails miserably. Of course, no one even suspects that time will pass, and the works of today's loser will be performed in the presence of the king, and all the courtiers will sigh and say: "Oh, what magic music!" In the meantime, upset Jean-Jacques starts wandering again.
Returning to his “mother,” as he calls Mme. De Varens, Jean-Jacques continues his music studies. At this time, his final rapprochement with Madame de Varens takes place. Their close relationship prompts this middle-aged woman to take up the secular education of a young man. But everything she does for him in this direction is, in his own words, "lost work."
The manager of Madame de Varence dies unexpectedly, and Jean-Jacques unsuccessfully tries to fulfill his duties. Overwhelmed with good intentions, he begins to hide money from Madame de Varens. However, to his shame, these hiding places are almost always found. Finally, he decides to start working in order to provide "mom" with a piece of bread. Of all the possible occupations, he chooses music, and for a start he takes money from Madame de Varens to travel to Paris in order to improve his skills. But life in Paris does not work, and, returning to Madame de Varence, Jean-Jacques becomes seriously ill. After recovering, they together with "mom" leave for the village. “Here begins a short period of happiness in my life; here comes peaceful, but fleeting moments for me, giving me the right to say that I lived, too, ”the author writes. Rural work alternates with hard work - history, geography, Latin. But despite the thirst for knowledge overwhelming him, Jean-Jacques falls ill again - now from a sedentary life. At the insistence of Madame de Varans it is sent for treatment in Montpellier, and the road becomes the lover of his random fellow traveler ...
Returning, Jean-Jacques discovers that eliminated from the heart of Madame de Varans "high colorless blond" with farcical manner handsome ... Confused and embarrassed, Jean-Jacques with a pain in his heart yields to him his place next to Madame de Varence and from that moment looks at "his dear mother only through the eyes of a real son." Very quickly, the newcomer settles life in the house of Madame de Varens in his own way. Feeling out of place, Jean-Jacques leaves for Lyon and is hired as a governor.
In the fall of 1715 he arrived in Paris "with 15 louis in his pocket, the comedy" Narcissus "and a musical project as a means of subsistence." Suddenly, the young man is offered the post of secretary of the embassy in Venice, he agrees and leaves France. In a new place, he likes everything - both the city and work. But the ambassador, unable to come to terms with the plebeian origin of the secretary, begins to survive him and eventually reaches his goal. Returning to Paris, Jean-Jacques tries to get justice, but he is told that his quarrel with the ambassador is a private matter, because he is only a secretary, and besides, not a citizen of France.
Realizing that he will not get justice, Russo settles in a quiet hotel and works on the completion of the opera. At this time, he finds "the only real consolation": he meets Teresa Levasseur. “The likeness of our hearts, the conformity of our characters, soon led to the usual result. She decided that she had found a decent person in me, and she was not mistaken. I decided that I found in her a warm-hearted girl, simple, without coquetry, and I was not mistaken either. I announced to her in advance that I would never leave her, but I would not marry her either. Love, respect, sincere honesty were the creators of my celebration, ”Jean-Jacques describes his meeting with a girl who has become his faithful and devoted friend.
Teresa is kind, intelligent, quick-witted, endowed with common sense, but strikingly ignorant. All attempts by Jean-Jacques to develop her mind fail: the girl has not even learned to tell the time by the clock. Nevertheless, her company is enough for Jean-Jacques; without being distracted by vain affairs, he works hard, and soon the opera is ready. But in order to promote her on the stage, it is necessary to have the talents of a court intriguer, and Jean-Jacques does not have them, and he again suffers a fiasco in the musical field.
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Life demands its own: now he is obliged to provide food not only for himself, but also for Teresa, and at the same time for her numerous relatives, led by a greedy mother, who is used to living at the expense of her eldest daughter. For the sake of earnings, Jean-Jacques enters the secretaries of a noble nobleman and leaves Paris for a while. When he returns, he discovers that Teresa is pregnant. From the conversations of his companions at the table d'hôte, Jean-Jacques learns that in France unwanted babies are handed over to the Orphanage; deciding to follow the customs of this country, he persuades Teresa to give the baby. The next year, history repeats itself, and so on five times. Teresa "obeyed, sighing bitterly." Jean-Jacques sincerely believes that "he chose the best for his children, or what he considered to be." However, the author "promised to write a confession, not a self-justification."
Jean-Jacques is close to Diderot. Like Jean-Jacques, Diderot has "his own Nanette", the only difference is that Teresa is meek and kind, and Nanette is quarrelsome and spiteful.
Learning that the Dijon Academy has announced a competition on the topic "Has the development of the arts and sciences contributed to the deterioration or purification of morals?" Jean-Jacques enthusiastically takes up the pen. He shows the finished work to Diderot and receives his sincere approval. Soon the essay is published, noise rises around it, Jean-Jacques becomes fashionable. But his unwillingness to find a patron for himself earns him a reputation as an eccentric. “I was a person they were trying to look at, but the next day they didn’t find anything new in him,” he notes with bitterness.
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The need for constant earnings and failing health prevent him from writing. Nevertheless, he achieves a production of his opera "The Village Sorcerer", at the premiere of which there is a court led by the king. The king likes the opera, and he, wishing to reward the author, appoints him an audience. But Jean-Jacques, wanting to preserve his independence, refuses to meet with the king and, therefore, from the royal pension. His act causes universal condemnation. Even Diderot, approving in principle an indifferent attitude towards the king, does not consider it possible to refuse a pension. The views of Jean-Jacques and Diderot diverge further and further.
Soon, the Dijon Academy announces a new topic: "On the origin of inequality among people", and Jean-Jacques again passionately takes up the pen. Political clouds begin to gather over the freedom-loving author, he leaves Paris and goes to Switzerland. There he is honored as a champion of freedom. He meets with "mom": she became poorer and sank. Jean-Jacques realizes that it is his duty to take care of her, but he shamefully admits that a new affection has pushed Madame de Varence out of his heart. Arriving in Geneva, Jean-Jacques returns to the fold of the Protestant church and again becomes a full citizen of his native city.
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Back in Paris, Jean-Jacques continues to earn his living by writing notes, because he cannot write for money - “it is too difficult to think nobly when you think in order to live”. After giving his compositions to the public, he is sure that he is doing it for the common good. In 1756 Jean-Jacques left Paris and settled in the Hermitage. “The changes in me began as soon as I left Paris, as soon as I got rid of the sight of the vices of this big city that caused my indignation,” he says.
In the midst of village dreams, Jean-Jacques is visited by Madame d? Udeto, and love flares up in his soul - "the first and only". "This time it was love - love in all its strength and in all its frenzy." Jean-Jacques accompanies Madame d? Udeto on walks, ready to faint from her tender kisses, but their relationship does not go beyond the boundaries of tender friendship. Madame d? Udeto served as the prototype for Julia from New Heloise. The novel was a resounding success, and the author even improved his financial affairs.
Forced to leave the Hermitage, Jean-Jacques moved to Montmorency, where he began to write Emile. He also continues to work on Political Institutions; the result of this hard work is the famous Social Contract. Many aristocrats begin to seek the favor of Jean-Jacques: Prince de Conti, Duchess of Luxembourg ... But “I did not want to be sent to the pantry, and did not value the table of nobles. I would prefer that they leave me alone, not honoring or humiliating me, ”says the philosopher.
After the publication of the "Social Contract" Jean-Jacques feels how the number of his enemies - secret and overt - increases dramatically, and he leaves for Geneva. But even there he has no rest: his book was burned, and he himself faces arrest. All Europe casts its curses on him, as soon as they do not call him: "possessed, possessed, predatory beast, wolf" ... Teresa voluntarily shares the fate of the freedom-loving exile.
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In the end, Jean-Jacques settles on the island of Saint-Pierre, located in the middle of Lake Bienne. “In a sense, I said goodbye to the light, intending to shut up on this island until my last days,” he writes. Jean-Jacques admires the beauty of the island and its surrounding landscapes; “Oh nature! oh my mother! " He exclaims in delight. Suddenly, he receives an order to leave the island. The question arises: where to go? First, Berlin was declared the destination of his journey. But, he writes, "in the third part, if I only have the strength to write it one day, it will be seen why, intending to go to Berlin, I actually went to England" ...