THE SOLITARY SELF by Maurice Cranston

THE SOLITARY SELF

Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Exile and Adversity
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 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)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-226-11865-7
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1996