Rousseau’s Courageous Confessions: Lessons on Domestic Violence in Eighteenth Century France

Dr. Barbara Lise Abrams
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From Freud to Foucault, Rousseau’s Emile has been recognized as a signal document in the construction of theories on childrearing. Less studied is the relationship between the Confessions and the Emile, and the light the former courageous work may shed on the motivations behind the formulations and insights of the latter. Rousseau’s descriptions of his childhood, penned later in life in the Confessions, reveal a mixture of feelings, painful and nostalgic, stemming from his treatment by the various adults in whose charge he was placed. By his own admission, one consequence of these experiences was to leave Rousseau keenly aware of the potential of adults, himself included, to cause harm to children. In his writings, Rousseau expresses his insightful sensitivity to many of the implications of domestic abuse we recognize today, such as recidivism and patterning.
My discussion will include an examination of Rousseau’s descriptions of his own childhood contained in the Confessions, and key passages in the Emile which reflect Rousseau’s ideas on childrearing. The Confessions reflect a time in Rousseau’s life when the progression of his paranoia and the objective marginalization of his life coalesce. In the first half of The Confessions, Rousseau presents the story of his boyhood where he describes himself as vulnerable and immature. In the second half of the Confessions, between books Seven and Nine, Rousseau describes the risk in acting upon his impulses should they grow too strong. The introspection and recognition Rousseau gained in the second half was based on internalized and repressed memories partially recounted in the first half of the work. In the last half of The Confessions there is a convergence of issues of insanity, depression, paranoia, genius and victimization.
Our appreciation of the genius of the Emile may be enhanced when read in light of Rousseau’s personal reflections on and revelations of his childhood. The Confessions offer ample testimony of the roots of Rousseau’s groundbreaking conceptual work on the construction of the modern family.

Keywords: Early modern literary lessons on Domestic Violence
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Rousseau’s Courageous Confessions

Dr. Barbara Lise Abrams

Assistant Professor, Assistant Professor of French and Humanities, Suffolk University, Dept.of Humanities and Modern Languages

I received my PhD from Columbia University in 2000. In Fall 2000 I received a one year Post-Doc at the University of Chicago. In Fall 2001 I began teaching in the fields of French Literature and the Humanities at Suffolk University in Boston.
I have published several articles on Eighteenth Century French philosophy, art, and literature. My current research focusus on the fictional and speculative works of the Eighteenth Century in France that provide a medium for an exploration of various types of marginalization. Self-alienation, forced marginalization and biological pre-determinism are emergent concepts reflected by pre-revolutionary work in eighteenth-century France.

Ref: H06P0062