Study Guide

Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau Summary

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau Summary

Baby Rousseau is born in 1712 to his devoted parents in Geneva, Switzerland. When Rousseau's mom dies in childbirth and his dad gets in trouble with the law, Rousseau is shipped off to live with his uncle Bernard. Rousseau pals around with his cousin, also named Bernard, learns a little bit of Latin, and generally finds mischief wherever he goes.

It's apprentice time, and no, we don't mean the show. Rousseau tries to become an engraver, but he just isn't cut out for the work. Instead, his buddy Pontverre hooks him up with a rich lady named Mme de Warens. Although Mme de Warens is gorgeous and flirty with Rousseau, he decides that he doesn't want a sugar mama. He heads to Turin and joins a Catholic community in the hopes that he can drum up work. Here's the catch: he isn't Catholic, but he's willing to go through a lengthy conversion process in order to improve his work prospects.

Finally, Rousseau starts working for the rich and eccentric Countess de Vercellis. He transcribes letters in French for her. When the Countess dies, Rousseau bounces around working for a few of her relatives before heading back to Mme de Warens. Mme de Warens and Rousseau start to get close. They're so attached to each other, in fact, that they call each other "Mama" and Little One" (er, no judgment). Mme de Warens hosts plenty of musical parties where she introduces Rousseau to sophisticated folks.

Mme de Warens offers to have sex with Rousseau, even though she's already the mistress of a dude named Claude Anet. Rousseau thinks it over and decides to go through with the deed. Claude Anet dies soon after, much to everyone's sadness (really). Rousseau gets to supervise Mama's financial affairs, which requires him to travel all over the place (having other kinds of affairs). When he returns from an extra-long trip, he finds that Mama has replaced him with a younger, hotter guy.

Rousseau manages to land a job working for a Count in Venice, but it's not all sunshine and daisies. The Count has a vile temper, and even accuses Rousseau of stealing from him. Rousseau is outta there. When he returns to France, he meets a delightful young lady named Therese. He promptly marries her and proceeds to carry on with a lot of other women at the same time—no happy endings here.

Rousseau pens a fabulously successful comic opera, The Village Soothsayer. The King is such a fan that he requests to meet Rousseau. Rousseau is all, "nope, nope, nope." He doesn't want to be indebted to such a powerful person, so he bails from France for a while.

When he returns, a rich lady pal named Mme d'Epinay puts him up in her home (the Hermitage). There, Rousseau falls in love with one Mme d'Houdetot. Even if we could ignore the fact that Rousseau is married, Mme d'Houdetot is attached to a guy named Saint Lambert. Mme d'Epinay spills the beans about the flirtation, leading to an epic fight among all of Rousseau's friends. Everyone seems to pick Mme d'Epinay's side. Rousseau moves out of the Hermitage, lickety-split.

Rousseau finds himself a couple of new patrons. Meet the Luxembourgs. Unfortunately, Rousseau manages to make them mad and then publish a couple of incendiary and blasphemous books, all in short order. When Emile is published, Rousseau gets word that the Paris courts intend to prosecute him for blasphemy. He heads off to Switzerland, but he soon learns that he's not safe anywhere. People are literally knocking down his door out of sheer anger—whoa.

For a hot minute, Rousseau thinks he can escape to a remote island to live out his days in peace—that is, until the governor gets in touch with him and tells him to leave before he's kicked out. Rousseau finally heads off for sanctuary in England. There, he reads his Confessions to a couple of new pals. They seem vaguely impressed.