JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU by Frances

JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In contrast to Guy Endore's enigmatic dual biography of Voltaire and Rousseau- (report p. 344), this makes Rousseau sharply individualistic and not the sycophant of Voltaire. In fact, the book is almost half read before Voltaire enters the scene. From then on, their enmity is attributed largely to Voltaire who was perhaps but one of many with whom Rousseau quarreled. The first half of this biography is concerned chiefly with Rousseau's years of poverty, struggle, non-recognition; the years when his strange fascination for men and women resulted in countless affairs- with friendships presumably undying with the growing portrait of himself that made his work the extension of his ego. With his death he was recognized as the conscience and the guide of his era. But during his life, his writings seemed dangerous heresy. He left no side of life free of attack, whether politics, social custom, religion, social injustice, education. He stirred dangerous thoughts and was later considered one of the heroes responsible for the French Revolution. He was an exile from France, from his native Switzerland, from the England of his adoption. Always he was in the midst of contention- a paradox who refuted his own claims. He wrote letters that were long philosophical treatises, apologia, confessions or attacks. He wrote dialogues in the custom of his time. He wrote verse- drama-fiction- discourses- and left at his death his most famous work completed, ready for publication, his Confessions. His personal life- long years with Therese, at the end his wife; numerous amours; an acknowledged rejection of successive children born of his union with Therese and abandoned to the State; his hosts of admirers- great names among them- and of equally famous detractors and enemies -- all this is threaded through with skillfully excerpted material from his writing. Overlong, perhaps, but through it Rousseau lives.

Publisher: Random House