Classic English Literature

Classic English Literature

Assignment #6 – Rousseau’s Confessions & Wordsworth’s poems
Discussion Questions For Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (1765-1770)

“Man was/is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” – Rousseau, The Social Contract

“That man intrudes into my work; he fills me with trouble, and I feel as if I were haunted by a damned soul at my side. May I never see him more; he would make me believe in devils and hell…he has buried himself at the bottom of a wood, where his soul has been soured and his moral nature has been corrupted.” –Denis Diderot, on Rousseau

Directions: In your answers to the following questions, include at least one direct quote from a relevant passages of The Confessions, and explain how the selection supports your response. When possible, explain how Rousseau’s views reflect the Romantic ideals we discussed in our last class on Blake’s poetry.

1. Rousseau opens his autobiography with the words, “I am not made like any of those I have seen; I venture to believe that I am not made like any of those who are in existence.” How does this assertion of his own unique nature contrast with the view of humanity propounded in Pope’s Essay on Man? Where else in the text does he assert the value of being unique?

2. Rousseau emphasizes his “passions” as defining a central aspect of his nature. He writes, “I am a man of very strong passions, and, while I am stirred by them, nothing can equal my impetuosity; I forget all discretion, all feelings of respect, fear and decency; I am cynical, impudent, violent and fearless; no feeling of shame keeps me back, no danger frightens me; with the exception of the single object which occupies my thoughts, the universe is nothing to me” (669). Why would this be a shocking statement for Rousseau’s audience, and where else in the text does he make a similar sort of claim?

3. Thinking back to eighteenth-century texts that you have read (Swift’s A Modest Proposal, Pope’s Essay On Man); compare the Enlightenment attitudes expressed toward “emotion” and “reason” with those proposed in Rousseau’s Confessions.

4. What is the significance of childhood memories for Rousseau? How are these memories tied to imagination?

5. Compare Rousseau’s view of common people with that of his view of the wealthy. Does he appear to prefer one class of people to the other? What does he say to distinguish them, and to what does he attribute the difference – if any?

6. Discuss the ideas of honesty in Confessions. Why does Rousseau reveal so much about himself, and why would he reveal details that people of his time (or even ours) would keep hidden?

7. Rousseau seems almost consumed by images of nature and the natural world. Locate one place in the text where he focuses his attention on the natural world and describe his treatment.

8. Compare the way Rousseau describes himself as a child with the character that he reveals about his mature self. Is he a different sort of person as a grown man than he was as a child?

9. Compare Wordsworth’s depiction of childhood in “We Are Seven,” and “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” to Rousseau’s in Confessions, and Blake’s poems from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Make a list of the similarities and differences that Wordsworth’s poems introduce to the idea of childhood (note at least five separate items and cite specific lines).

10. Compare Wordsworth’s depiction of nature in “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” and “The World Is Too Much with Us” to that of Rousseau and Blake. Make a list of the similarities and differences that Wordsworth’s poems introduce to the idea of childhood (note at least five separate items and cite specific lines).

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