Books by Maurice Cranston

Released: Dec. 1, 1996

Cranston concludes his three-volume biography of Rousseau (Jean Jacques: The Early Life and Work, 1983; The Noble Savage, 1991) with a dispassionate chronicle of the philosopher's bitter last years—a period of exile, persecution, and paranoia. Cranston died just before finishing the biography; his colleague Sanford Lakoff (Univ. of Calif.) has added a final chapter using Cranston's notes and the text of a lecture, adding a useful epilogue distilled from Cranston's previous books on Rousseau's thought. Cranston ended The Noble Savage with Rousseau's transformation from ``literary celebrity to cult figure'' after the publication of The Social Contract, and Julie, ou la Nouvelle HÇloãse. Infamy closely followed fame: When friends tried to have his novel Emile published in Paris, it was condemned, publicly burned, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was forced into uncertain wanderings, which Cranston conscientiously tracks. Staying above Rousseau's emotional perspective, Cranston traces his increasingly heated dealings with his publisher and his feuds with the group of Paris philosophes dominated by Voltaire. Rousseau was thrown out of the Swiss canton of NeuchÉtel, where he had found asylum, after Letters from the Mountains, a work highly critical of the Swiss, was published. He traveled to Bern, had a romantic interlude on the isle of Saint-Pierre, then had to flee again. He accepted David Hume's offer of asylum in England. Cranston gives an admirably impartial account of the stormy relationship of this philosophical odd couple, though he gives scant attention to the composition of the Confessions, which occurred roughly simultaneously. He is, however, always meticulously objective in tracing Rousseau's franctic actions and complex, contradictory character. A sober, concise chaser to the intoxicating Confessions (though more a starting point than the last word on that work) and a muted, though moving, conclusion to a remarkable work of scholarship and sympathy. (16 illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1991

In this second of his projected three-volume biography of Rousseau (Jean-Jacques, 1983), Cranston (Political Science/London School of Economic) continues his dry and detailed reconstruction of Rousseau's life from primary sources. Here, Cranston starts with his subject's flight for Paris, covering his life as a guest on prosperous country estates, the completion of his most important work, and his escape from arrest for impiety and sedition. Rousseau's life, as Cranston shows, illustrates the Frenchman's own thesis-that ``Man is born free but is everywhere in chains''-as Rousseau himself was imprisoned by the contradictions in his own personality. In Julie, or the New Heloise, Rousseau explored his fantasies of virtuous love, while he repeatedly betrayed his lifelong mistress and engaged in petty flirtations with married women. Self-educated and a writer, Rousseau, in Emile, advocated a system of education that denigrated books, and he idealized both the tutor and the child although he abandoned his own five children in a Paris orphanage. And, even while enjoying the patronage of an aristocratic family in his own little chateau, he wrote the Social Contract, attributing all social evils to the wealth and privilege he was enjoying. For all his high-mindedness, Rousseau, Cranston demonstrates, was the ``noble savage,'' quarrelsome, ill-manned, suspicious, tyrannical, jealous, ``devoured'' by the need to love and be loved, contemptuous of his patron's courtesies but easily offended and complaining if they neglected him. While Cranston's method may indeed ``break the chain of books based on books,'' his restricting himself to primary sources, avoiding interpretation or analysis or style, psyche, milieu, even historical and social context, severely limits the value of this biography, however illuminating his analysis of the writings. Read full book review >