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From Saint to Psychotic: The Crisis of Human Identity in the Late 18th Century

A Comparative Study of Clarissa, La Nouvelle Héloise, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers

Series:

Maurice R. Funke

As the literary historian moves from Clarissa through La Nou- velle Héloise to Werther, he sees concepts which had hitherto been accepted as constants within the matrix of human values being put into question. The very idea of man's ability to know the truth emerges as an assumption based upon acquired knowledge rather than actual fact. The individual's struggle with what by societal con- ventions has been established as natural erodes his self confidence and even his individuality is identified as role playing. The attempt at self-definition leads the tormented individual to rely upon a transcendent principle which seems to provide security but which actually arises out of scepticism and sexual guilt. Suicide, the act of incorporating death into the concept of personal identity, constitutes the most extreme form of this struggle.
Contents: The Creation of «Nature» and «Society» out of the Self - So- cial Roles and the Individual - Love and Passion - Religion and Sex - Suicide - Selected Bibliography.