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74 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My own confesssion
Rousseau's Confessions had been on my book shelf for at least two years before I got motivated to read it. I had started it a few times, but never got beyond the first chapter. I read quite alot, though, and the Confessions seemed to pop up everywhere, in History, Philosophy, and especially in articles on influences in Literature. Flipping through it, it seemed dry and...
Published on June 22, 1997

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy revision of the anonymous translation
This edition of Rousseau's Confessions purports to reprint the anonymous translation of 1783 and 1790--an exciting prospect, given that this is an excellent, as well as an historically important, rendering. In fact, though, this edition mercilessly simplifies the language of the anonymous translation. The result is a clear and easy gist, with none of the charm or verve of...
Published 21 months ago by William Cook Miller


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74 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My own confesssion, June 22, 1997
By A Customer
Rousseau's Confessions had been on my book shelf for at least two years before I got motivated to read it. I had started it a few times, but never got beyond the first chapter. I read quite alot, though, and the Confessions seemed to pop up everywhere, in History, Philosophy, and especially in articles on influences in Literature. Flipping through it, it seemed dry and the passages boring and out-of date. But I told myself I must read it, if only to better understand the references that kept drawing from it.
Once I got past the first chapter, I found I simply could not put it down. Admittedly, I had the extra advantage of knowing alot about the period in history and the life of Rousseau himself, but that wasn't the magic of the book. It was Rousseau himself who seemed to come alive through the pages. The tortured honesty on every page which excited and shocked me kept me up late every night until I was finished. There were times I simply had to put the book down, catch my breath a little, and think, "Oh My God! I can't believe it!" After, I realized I had finished one of the best reading experiences of my life. It ranked right up there with "The Red and The Black", "Les Mis", "Crime and Punishment" and "Anna Karenina". This book will live through the ages, I had read a hundred times but dismissed it. I only hope you are more trustful than I.
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sure, Jacques...sure, June 16, 2004
There are certain books that are cornerstones in your life. This is one of mine. A lot of the Romantic self-centerdness that marks my character can be traced directly back to this guy. But then again, whatever my expansive vision and love of variety and the vagaries of human nature can also be traced back to this cynical, but at the same time genial soul.
Rousseau, like Voltaire and Diderot, his contemporaries, could look upon his fellow man and himself with both a frown and a smile. He claims at the outset of the work that he is going to show you himself as he honestly is, warts and all. Don't believe him! But don't turn your back on him either, or dismiss him as a liar! You would be denying yourself the company of one of the most charming alluring reconteurs in all of literature, should you do so.
Monsieur Rousseau absolutely loves talking about himself. That sounds like a recipe for boredom, I know. But the trouble is, he's got such a fascinating subject. He knew everyone who was anyone in the 18th century. The women, in particular, were the actual movers and shakers of fin de siecle France. They were figures who presided over literary salons when there actually were literary salons. Madame de Stael is only one matron who looms large in the account. France was basically ruled by powerful and cunning women in that era. Rousseau was there, mentally recording every intimate bon mot and detail.
Then there is his infectious, expansive nature to win you over! Try as you might, self centered as the man is, you can't help liking the guy! He is the ultimate Romantic, in the best sense of the word. He believes in his soul that mankind is noble, that we were put here on earth to enact a divine plan for the benefit of all. That the French Revolution would show a different, Hobbesian side to his theory doesn't really diminish his optimistic, humanistic influence on the Romantic movement and ultimately 19th century literature, in general. He's one of those seminal figures without whom Goethe, the Romantic poets, Blake, Emerson, Whitman, etc. wouldn't have been possible.
This is a great book. Liar, hedger, whatever, you really will get to know this character in all his colors, subterfuges, moods, etc. Love him or hate him, you will have to admit that he's like no one you have ever met. Unfortunately.
BEK
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A startlingly honest, June 28, 1996
By A Customer
I'm thrilled to see Amazon books' celebration of Rousseau's
birthday because his writings not only transformed
Enlightenment thought, but also prefigured the emergence of
Romanticism in the nineteenth century. But Rousseau's Confessions
is not just a work for historians. This work is stunning in
its honesty, even to a jaded twentieth-century reader. The
psychological insight is remarkable: As the narrative
progresses, Rousseau's suspicious nature moves into a
chilling paranoia, yet one cannot help but feel compassion
for such a brilliant and beleagered man. Even paranoids
have enemies, and Rousseau certainly had plenty, and his
Confessions provide an insiders view of the Enlightenment,
with all the rivalries and quarrels.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Greatest Autobiographies Ever, August 25, 2006
By 
Autobiographies are inherently unreliable. We all want to gloss over the embarrassing or wrongful moments in our lives and present ourselves as engaging "packages" to our contemporaries and to posterity. In Jean-Jacques Rousseau's CONFESSIONS, we have an autobiographer who is willing to show you his life -- warts and all.

What strikes many contemporary readers as somewhat whack about Rousseau is that he gave several of his own children up for adoption, thinking they would be better cared for by a charitable institution than at home. Although he never "officially" tied the knot with Thérèse Levasseur in a religious or civil marriage, he was at the very least what we would today call her common law husband.

As with Montaigne in his essay "Of Experience," we are introduced to Rousseau's painful urinary problems. He had to catheterize himself frequently to be able to urinate at all; and toward the end of the book, he talks about adopting an Armenian garb because he could no longer comfortably wear trousers.

Even more painful than the physical was that Rousseau appeared to be a trusting person who tried to make friends, but was frequently betrayed by them. Some of the betrayers include such famous contemporaries of the author's as Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d'Alembert. It is possible that Rousseau had a strong streak of paranoia, as it is unlikely that so many of his ex-friends would form conspiracies against him.

Perhaps in no other book is there such stress laid on the perils of having to seek patronage rather than earning money on one's own merits. I know that, if I were living in 18th century France under the old régime, I, too, would have difficulties because of my own blunt personality. One had to have the manners of a dancing master and the insincerity of a groupie dealing with the notoriously unreliable French nobility of the day.

Although Rousseau earned some money earlier in his career teaching and copying music, he earned little or nothing from his books. In fact, he was frequently cheated by his business partners, some of whom plagiarized and published his texts under their own names.

In the end, we have a great writer telling of his few halcyon moments and the slow downward spiral of his life. Fortunately for us, Jean-Jacques managed to turn the story of his life into one of the greatest autobiographies ever written -- and perhaps the greatest work to come from France in the 18th century, a time crowded with great literary talent.

Cohen's translation dates back many years, but is completely adequate to the purpose.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic autobiography, March 10, 2007
By 
Anyechka (Rensselaer, NY United States) - See all my reviews
Prior to the appearance of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 'Confessions,' there existed very few real autobiographies. The few that did exist were like St. Augustine's 'Confessions,' designed to impart a religious or moral lesson instead of to exhibit or try to justify one's life. By the time Rousseau came along, however, people had begun to see themselves as individuals, not members of a society governed based on religious or monarchical precepts. So though writing one's autobiography may be old hat now, this was a revolutionary thing in the 18th century. This autobiography is also special in that Jean-Jacques reveals himself warts and all. He doesn't gloss over faults or embarrassing incidents; he exhibits all of himself, both the good and the bad.

This book was highly recommended by the wonderful History of the Enlightenment professor I had my senior year of college, and I was thrilled to find a copy (for only 50 cents!) about 5 years later. I'd been eager to read it based on the professor's lurid descriptions of it. He told us that, among other things, Rousseau revealed that he liked to be spanked, he described his sex life, and he had a very interesting problem centered in his midsection, manifested in how he had urinary problems that always seemed to crop up whenever he was about to be integrated into society, such as one time when he was going to be given some money by the king to further his writing, but his problem struck, and he excused himself and went out into the hall, where he ended up urinating on the floor, unable to hold himself, and was laughed at by the servant-women. I was kind of disappointed that the book didn't turn out as spicy as my professor had made it out to be, but I still loved every moment of it just the same. My professor's teasers of what the book contains were just the tip of the iceberg. Among many other fascinating stories and tidbits, we also learn about such things as his extreme shyness with women he was attracted to, how he was a late bloomer who didn't lose his virginity till he was in his early twenties, how several of the women he was attracted to and had relationships with were older women (among them his first lover, Mme. de Warens, who was far more than just a lover but also his teacher, his mentor, and his patron), how he was beaten horribly by the man he was apprenticed to in Geneva as a teenager, the real story behind why he gave all 5 of his kids away to foundling hospitals, the increasing persecutions and exiles he endured, how he engaged in self-gratification, and how, as a young man, he had advances made to him by two other men (one of them a priest). Although one wonders how much paranoia might have played into these growing conspiracies against him he laments. While there is ample evidence that a number of his former friends turned against him (to say nothing of how he was thrown out of a lot of places he tried to find refuge in after 'The Social Contract' and 'Émile' were banned), it also seems kind of weird that so many people would form all of these vast far-reaching conspiracies against him out of nowhere. Still, Jean-Jacques comes across as such an interesting likeable person, whom just about anyone can relate to, that this obsession with these alleged conspiracies can be overlooked. One wishes that the book covered his whole life and not just from 1712 to 1765, since he's just such an interesting character!

My translation is the one by J.M. Cohen, which is over 50 years old now, but gets the job done in spite of a few dated spots. The basic story remains the same in spite of some dated phrases and language (e.g., does anyone under the age of 100 still use diminutive words like "authoress" or "patroness" anymore?). I also wish there had been an index, particularly since what with so many people coming and going in Jean-Jacques's life (he knew so many famous and prominent people in Enlightenment Europe!), it can be kind of hard to keep track of just who's whom. Still, minor quibbles aside, he was a truly fascinating person, and this classic work of autobiography and the Enlightenment is not to be missed.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy revision of the anonymous translation, January 6, 2013
This edition of Rousseau's Confessions purports to reprint the anonymous translation of 1783 and 1790--an exciting prospect, given that this is an excellent, as well as an historically important, rendering. In fact, though, this edition mercilessly simplifies the language of the anonymous translation. The result is a clear and easy gist, with none of the charm or verve of eighteenth century prose. A genuine middlebrow bummer of an edition: pretty, but stupid.

P.S. I assume that all editions of the anonymous translation "revised and completed by A.S. Glover" are identical to this one.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of the soul's interior monologue, June 25, 2010
By 
Wordsworth (Greenwich, CT) - See all my reviews
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This book is a revelation as it seemed to me a portrait, or perhaps a mask, of the heightened sensibilities of the interior monologue of a genius. "Since my name is certain to live on among men, I do not want the reputation it transmits to be a false one." Indeed, his honesty is remarkable as he writes about the abandonment of his children, his relationship with lovers and his intimate proclivities. Rousseau's life was a fascinating study of an extraordinary and innovative mind. He dined "sometime with princes at noon and supped with peasants at night." Musically self-taught, he invented an alphabetical code for writing music and wrote an opera performed with it in "The Village Soothsayer." His "Social Contract" inspired constitutions in nations struggling with revolution against monarchies to become democracies which earned him threats of sedition and cruel acts of political scorn. His books were burned, the church sought to excommunicate him, his house was stoned and he escaped in exile en route to Berlin through the good graces of philosopher David Hume to England toward the end of his life. At times, often enough, he seems the narcissist subtly engrossed in his many virtues masked in false humility and yet the final, lasting impression is of a masterpiece forged from the crucible of a tormented soul bent upon the diligent and inspired study of the journey of the maturing human heart. Like Voltaire toward the end of his life but before his exile, we find Rousseau living on a lake isle longing only to finish his life in the practice of avid gardening and intellectual pursuits. The translation here by Angela Scholar is richly, gorgeous prose which reminded me of Proust, who I'm confident must have been influenced by Rousseau. This book is, as Rousseau described it, the "most secret history of my soul" and ranks highly on my Top 25 Novels of All Time among the holy literary trinity of France's Proust in "The Remembrance of Lost Time" and Balzac's "Lost Illusions." I really can't urge you strongly enough to carve out the time to read this brilliantly conceived autobiography.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself.", October 11, 2008
By 
frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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While I was actually reading this book, I blogged quite a bit about the reading experience. Rousseau is hands-down the most irritating narrator that I have read since A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. Rousseau is so self-absorbed that he moves past pathetic into loathesome and back again. He starts his career as an exhibitionist, moves into petty theft, buys an 11 year old girl for unpleasant purposes, forces his mistress to abandon their children at a foundling's home, alienates everyone who tries to help him, and generally seems lost in paranoia and self-aggrandizement.

I've read a lot of reviews of this book where people refer to his excesses in a "gee, shucks" kind of way and then to go on and note that by the end of the book, they had actually come to like the guy. I have to say that this wasn't at all my experience. By the time that I finished the book, I had a strong desire to take a hot bath.

None of which is to say that I think that you should skip The Confessions. On the contrary. I understand why it is an important book, and it isn't always necessary to like the narrator in order to get something out of the reading experience. (If that were the case, nobody would ever read Proust again.)

So why should you read The Confessions? You should read it if you have an interest in autobiography-- it is the first major secular biography produced by the west. You should read it if you have any interest in the history or philosophy of the Enlightenment. Here is the core of so much of those ideas. Finally, you should read it if you're interested in people. Rousseau is, if nothing else, quite a character. And you've got to give him credit for being willing to be so honest about his flaws and failings.

(This said, I have the distinct impression that he probably would have been shocked by the response to his little peccadillos. Perspective didn't seem to be one of his key strengths. At the end of The Confessions, he says: "For my part, I publicly and fearlessly declare that anyone, even if he has not read my writings, who will examine my nature, my character, my morals, my likings, my pleasures, and my habits with his own eyes and can still believe me a dishonourable man, is a man who deserves to be stifled.")

I read the Penguin Classics edition, which is translated and introduced by J.M. Cohen. I appreciated that they left the notes in situ, but I occasionally wished that there had been more of them-- particularly when it came to mentions of writers and thinkers who had been important to Rousseau's development.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The contemptible genius, November 23, 2004
Rousseau was a great genius, and one element of that genius is present in this work. He seems to be more honest in confessing his faults and sins, more relentlessly petty in finding faults in himself than anyone had ever been before. He concentrates on himself without that dimension of connection to higher questions and realities that Augustine has. He also reveals himself to be in many incidents most especially in relation to the mother of his children and his children a quite contemptible human being. For me the most memorable incident in the Confessions is when Rousseau wagers with himself and wins the wager not by throwing the rock at the tree from the distance as he was originally to test himself by doing, but rather by going up to the tree and making sure he does not miss. The Rousseauian wager that is one conducted in fundamental dishonesty with a goal of pettily promoting one's own self- interest. And this is the writer who most historians believe did more than anyone else to bring about the French Revolution.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern Prototype, June 13, 2009
By 
Steiner (Philadelphia) - See all my reviews
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Rousseau's 'Confessions' is a rarely intimate reflection of a classical philosopher's life and observations. The Confessions is also a sort of aesthetic precursor to Flaubert and Proust, a kind of interior amalgam of social reflection. Rousseau lived as exciting a life as practically anyone-he was friendly with the giants of his era, Voltaire, Diderot, D'lambert. He was also a bitter and paranoid provocateur who split with these figures as well as the enlightenment project as a whole. I honestly found sections of this text hard going, but I find it fascinating for its preoccupation with the text itself. Rousseau indicates that his life had been meaningless until he had begun writing his 'Confessions,' an admission of the centrality of this project to his life as a whole. Rousseau remains an admirable thinker for his clarity and honesty. Although he was pretty insane by the time he wrote the 'Confessions,' it remains a wildly entertaining and illuminating entry into the mind of one of our greatest minds.
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The Confessions (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature)
The Confessions (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Paperback - December 5, 1996)
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