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The Role of the Reader in Rousseau's «Confessions»

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Catherine A. Beaudry

Jean-Jacques Rousseau created the autobiographical genre in 1766 when he began his Confessions. Before him, readers were familiar with Christian apologetics and memoirs, but not with a modern autobiography. This book examines the role Rousseau requires his rhetorical reader to play, if he be in earnest, and it offers the contrasting reactions of real readers who when faced with the final version of the text were stunned by what they read, for the Confessions went far beyond all expectations in their belligerence, their intimacy of detail and their overwhelming critique of the social institutions of the ancien régime. The study shows how readers past and present refer time and again to the same passages, always heavily embedded with caveats and exhortations to the reader.