Rousseau and Romanticism

Important figure in Romanticism and influenced the likes of Wordsworth

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  • Created by: Shelley
  • Created on: 13-05-13 12:10

Rousseau background

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778 born in Geneva
  • Son of a watchmaker and his mother died soon after his birth
  • Received a haphazard education from his father which included republican patriotism and the reading of classical authors e.g. Plutarch who dealt with the Roman republic
  • He was put into the care of a Pastor (his father fled to avoid arrest) and became an engraver's apprentice
  • He left the city aged 16 and came under the influence of a Roman Catholic convert noblewomen like Francoise-Louise de la Tour
  • He travelled to Turin and converted to Roman Catholicism in April 1728
  • Spent brief time training to become a priest
  • 1740 took up position of tutor in Lyon, this brought him into contact with major figures of the French Enlightenment.
  • 1745 met his wfie Therese Levasseur and had 5 children, whom he abandoned
  • He published four important books: New Heloise (1760) Emile (1762) Social Contract (1762) and Confessions (1781)
  • They were very popular and made a profound impression on European thinking and the Romantic period
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New Heloise

  • 1760
  • It is a romantic story told in the form of letters with themes of the beauty of nature and the simple life as opposed to the corrupt and artificial life in the cities.
  • Rousseau believed humans were born good and were corrupted by bad institutions e.g. governments, schools, armies and cities that caused social inequality, suffering and injustice
  • His solution to this misery was to change the laws and institutions.
  • The changes would occur by people returning to nature and the natural state of human goodness, uncorrupted by institutions that supported inequality and oppression.
  • In this natural state he thought that the few would not oppress the many.
  • Rousseau's back to nature gospel was "the most powerful regenerative force of the late 18th century" and "turned the thought of Europe into new channels".
  • There are few men who have influenced the mind of the world as profoundly as he did.
  • "Politics, education, religion, aesthetics, morals and literature all bear the impress of the ideas he proclaimed."
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Emile & Education

  • 1762
  • Tremendous impact on modern theories of elementary education.
  • Rousseau described a new form of education, based on fostering the natural abilities of each child instead of trying to force all children into a single mold.
  • This radically new method would preserve the child's natural goodness instead of corrupting it.
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Political theory

  • Social contract he argues that the existence of all states is based on a "social contract" which may be written or simply understood.
  • In this contract, the members of the state surrender their individual rights to the "general will".
  • Since the power of the sate comes from the power of the people, each one of those people is ultimately the source of all state power, and therefore free.
  • According to Ergang, "the Social Contract is one of the most influential political treatises of all time."
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  • Confessions 1781 (posthumously)
  • Received much praise for his previous works but had to flee the country or face imprisonment for radical ideas and the outrage many felt towards it.
  • Before Rousseau, hardly anyone wrote autobiographies as people tended to see themselves as part of a social unit, not as individuals and each person was much like each other.
  • J.M Cohen says that "By Rousseau's had begun to see themselves not as atoms in a society...but as unique individuals".
  • Rousseau believed that emotion, which came from nature and sexual love, was the core of his being and the source of his inspiration.
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