By François Mauriac

8,147 ratings - 3.62* vote

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Book details

Mass Market Paperback, 511 pages
1963 by Librairie Generale Francaise

(first published 1782)

Original Title
Les Confessions
0192822756 (ISBN13: 9780192822758)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Ahmad Sharabiani

955. Les Confessions = The Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Confessions is an autobiographical book, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In modern times, it is often published with the title The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in order to distinguish it from Saint Augustine's Confessions.

Covering the first fifty-three years of Rousseau's life, up to 1765, it was completed in 1769, but not published until 1782, four years after Rousseau's death, even though Rousseau did read excerpts of his manuscript publicly at various salons and other meeting places.

عنوانها: «اعترافات»؛ «اعترافات من»؛ نویسنده: ژان ژاک روسو؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: سال 1976میلادی

اعترافات - ژان ژاک روسو؛ ادبیات فرانسه؛ موضوع: سرگذشتنامه نویسندگان فرانسوی سده 18م

عنوان: اعترافات - ژان ژاک روسو؛ مترجم: فرهاد (رضا مشایخی)؛ تهران، کانون معرفت، 1328؛ در 545ص؛

عنوان: اعترافات - ژان ژاک روسو؛ مترجم: بهروز بهزاد؛ طهران، چاپ دوم 1348؛ در 512ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران دادار، سال 1382؛ در 616ص

عنوان: اعترافات؛ نویسنده: ژان ژاک روسو؛ مترجم: مهستی بحرینی؛ تهران، نیلوفر، چاپ اول 1384، چاپ دوم 1385، در 845ض، شابک 9789644482847؛ چاپ هفتم 1392؛

عنوان: اعترافات من؛ نویسنده: ژان ژاک روسو؛ مترجم: محمود بهفروزی؛ تهران، جامی، 1390؛ در 744ص؛ شابک 9786001760372؛

عنوان: اعترافات؛ نویسنده: ژان ژاک روسو؛ مترجم: هانیه چوپانی؛ تهران، فراروی، 1394، در 533ض، شابک 9786005947731؛

ژان ژاک روسو فیلسوف بودند؛ فیلسوفی یکسره رها از بندهای اخلاقی، که در زمانه ی ایشان، بر فیلسوفان بار شده بود، و بر گرده شان سنگینی میکرد؛ «روسو» شخصیتی یگانه بودند، شخصیتی که همزمان از ایشان، انسانی محبوب، و منفور میساخت؛ در طول زندگی پرفراز و نشیب، و سرخوشانه ی خویش، با بزرگان عصر روشنگری؛ همچون «ولتر»، «هیوم»، «دیدرو»، و «اصحاب دایرة المعارف»؛ دوستی، و نیز دشمنی داشتند؛ نگاه صریحشان به طبیعت انسان، و دفاع ایشان از قانون، و قراردادهای اجتماعی، در عین دشمنی اش، با نهادهای اجتماعی، تابلویی ناساز و دلربا، از اندیشه ی «روسو» به دست میدهد، که همدوره های ایشان، تاب بردباری در برابر آن دیدگاهها را نداشتند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 22/06/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی


I would never have read The Confessions had it not been for the admiration W.G. Sebald expresses for the man and his works in his A Place in the Country. The writing here is lucid, often floridly emotional, but it’s the density of Rousseau’s memory that astonishes. His focus on a single incident or individual is uncanny; his retrospective interpretations can go on for pages. And this was a man with substantial social deficits. In Book Three, it becomes clear that the author suffered from something like autism, for he had limited social capacities, and admits that he was little more than a fool in social settings. It was only in retrospect that he could review his knowledge and come to conclusions—and write.

The piety becomes annoying, all the discussion of great fathers of the Church who, let’s face it, were just as pederastic then as they are today. Human nature hasn’t changed. Rousseau even has a story about a priest picking him up for sex one night during a bout of homelessness in his late teens. The view one gets of society at this time, too, is a contrast of extremes. Pre-industrial revolution, there’s the unspoiled landscape which at this remove seems almost unimaginable. Contrast that though with the primitive medicine—not much more than herbs for illnesses, the brevity of life, the impenetrable Ignorance of the people, the extractive business practices, zero public education. It would not be a stretch to read The Confessions purely as an historical dystopia.

Despite his aforementioned social incapacities, Rousseau was paradoxically highly social, or would “high functioning” be the more accurate term? Since he knows Italian he undertakes the position of secretary to the French ambassador in Venice; this during the War of the Austrian Succession as Prince Lobkowitz is marching on Naples. His devotion to his duty is impeccable, while the ambassador himself concerns himself primarily with whoring. The Venice chapter is a classic story of working under incompetent leadership all too familiar to those who have experience working in either military or corporate settings. One’s heart goes out to Rousseau when he recounts how he was so basely insulted by his superior.

I must finish...

Roy Lotz

There are times when I am so unlike myself that I could be taken for someone else of an entirely opposite character.

This book begins with a falsehood and only escalates from there. Rousseau, prone to hyperbole, boldly asserts that his autobiography is without precedent. Nevermind St. Augustine’s famous autobiography, which shares the same name; and ignore the works of St. Teresa, Benvenuto Cellini, and Montaigne. I suppose this sort of boastful exaggeration shouldn’t count for much; after all, Milton began Paradise Lost by saying he was attempting “Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.” Nevertheless, the second part of Rousseau’s assertion, that his enterprise would “find no imitator,” is even more indisputably false than the first one. This book has found nothing if not imitators.

Rousseau's Confessions is really two distinct works, the first covering his childhood to his early adulthood, the second up to age fifty-three. For my part, the first is far better, and far more original. Like any modern self-psychoanalyzer, Rousseau traces his personality to formative events in his childhood—quite unusual at the time, I believe. Even more surprising is how frankly sexual is Rousseau’s story. He begins by describing the erotic pleasure he derived from being spanked by his nanny, relates a few homosexual encounters (undesired on his part), and frequently mentions masturbation. Much of the first book is simply prolonged descriptions of all the women he’s had anything to do with.

The second part is less striking, sometimes dull, but still full of interesting episodes. Rousseau has much to say about his career as a composer, something of which I had no idea before reading this book. He begins his career as a musician as a bungler and a phony, but eventually succeeds in closing the gap between his pretensions and his abilities. It isn't long before Rousseau finds himself stitching together some musical and lyrical fragments from Jean-Philippe Rameau and Voltaire into Les fêtes de Ramire, a one-act opera; and he soon becomes Rameau’s enemy, because (Rousseau is convinced) Rameau is jealous of Rousseau’s musical powers.

Rousseau also relates the famous tale of his children. After taking a seamstress, Thérèse, as his mistress, and having several children by her, he persuades her (and himself) to give them up to the foundling hospital. This is probably the most infamous episode of Rousseau’s life, and has provided plentiful fuel for those wish to discredit his ideas on education and child-rearing. As Rousseau grows old and becomes a man of letters, he accumulates ever more enemies, including Diderot and Grimm, who (Rousseau asserts) plotted relentlessly against him, partially because Rousseau scorned city life and modern luxuries.

I can’t help comparing this book with another great autobiography I recently read, that of Benvenuto Cellini. The two men are in many ways opposites. Cellini is a man of the world; his eye is turned exclusively outward; he is all action; he is confident in high society; he rarely blushes and never admits a fault. Rousseau is a man of sentiment and feeling, absorbed in his private world, often timid, awkward, and unsure of himself, and who often makes self-deprecating remarks.

And yet, the more I read, the more I saw strong similarities between these two self-chroniclers. They are both massive egotists. If I were to write my autobiography, I’d hope that it would include some nice portraits of people in my life; but in these books there is no compelling portrait of anyone except their authors.

Like many narcissists, their vanity is easily wounded. They are obsessed with slights, and consider anyone who doesn’t show the proper respect to be, not only inconsiderate, but downright villainous. They both make enemies quickly, wherever they go. And yet, the fact that so many people they meet turn against them does not prompt them to pause and reflect; rather, they attribute all antipathy to envy, jealousy, or pure malevolence. Both have persecution complexes; both are paranoid; and both entertain extremely high opinions of their own virtues and abilities. In Rousseau’s own words, he is among “the best of men.”

It occurs to me that the urge to write an autobiography, in an age when autobiography was anything but common, requires a certain amount of narcissism. What surprises me is that these two men, Cellini and Rousseau, are also quite oblivious of themselves and utterly unable to question their own opinion. This is in strong contrast to Montaigne, somebody who Rousseau explicitly scorns:
I have always laughed at the false ingenuousness of Montaigne, who, feigning to confess his faults, takes great care not to give himself any, except such as are amiable; whilst I, who have ever thought, and still think myself, considering everything, the best of men, felt there is no human being, however pure he may be, who does not internally conceal some odious vice.

There may be a grain of truth in accusing Montaigne of attributing only amiable faults to himself (though reports by his contemporaries coincide remarkably well with Montaigne’s self-report). Even so, Montaigne had a quality that Rousseau eminently lacked: the ability to jump out of his own perspective. When playing with his cat, Montaigne paused to reflect “who knows whether she is amusing herself with me more than I with her?” And in that simple question—pushing himself out of his own skull, seeing himself from the eyes of his cat—he transcends all of the searching self-analysis of Rousseau. Rousseau's total inability to, even for one moment, question his righteousness and his enemies’ wickedness is what makes him, by the end of the book, nearly intolerable—at least for me.

So much for Rousseau’s personality. As a portrait of a man, this book is interesting enough; but as the confessions of one of the most influential thinkers in the 18th century, it is far more so. Rousseau, whatever his faults, was undeniably remarkable. To paraphrase Will Durant, Rousseau, with almost no formal education, abandoned early by his father, wandering incessantly from place to place, setting himself as an enemy of the dominant currents of thought and art of the time, the avowed antagonist both of Rameau, the foremost composer, and Voltaire and Diderot, the foremost writers—this Rousseau nevertheless managed to become the decisive influence on the next century.

Cases like Rousseau’s make me stop and reflect about the nature of intellectual work. Neither a strong reasoner nor an adept researcher—any competent professor could poke gaping holes in his arguments and cite reams of factual inaccuracies—it is Rousseau, not they, who is still being studied at college campuses all over the world, and who will be the foreseeable future. Indisputably he was an excellent stylist, though this hardly accounts for his canonical status.

What sets Rousseau apart, intellectually at least, is his enormous originality. Rousseau himself realizes this:
I know my heart, and have studied mankind; I am not made like anyone I have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not better, I am least claim originality, and whether Nature did wisely in breaking the mold with which she formed me, can only be determined after having read this work.

Rousseau wrote in a way no one had before. His ideas were fresh, his attitude unique. Although he had influences, there is nothing derivative about him. The more I read and the longer I live, the more am I drawn to the conclusion that the ability to form new ideas—genuinely new, not just re-interpretations of old ones—is one of the rarest human faculties. Rousseau had this faculty in abundance. It is impossible to read him within the context of his time and not be utterly astounded at his creativity.

It is just this sort of creativity, the thing we most celebrate and praise, that seems impossible to teach—impossible by definition, since you cannot teach somebody to think totally outside the bounds of your own paradigm. You cannot, in other words, teach someone to transcend everything you teach them. You can teach somebody to solve problems creatively; but how can you teach somebody to examine problems previously unimagined? This is just one of the paradoxes of education, I suppose.

In any case, Rousseau is another example of those canonical thinkers who could never get tenure nowadays. It's a funny world.

Rakhi Dalal

As is true about classics, they are not only a very authentic expression of the author’s views and ideas, but also by large, present a mirror for the world we live in. This is one reason why it is difficult to review them. For, it calls not only an undivided attention towards the ideas expressed and opinions raised, but also for a deep introspection; a meditation on the relevance of ideas presented, their importance on the working of society and their necessity in the wake of everyday life.

Confessions, is about this and more. In addition to being the first major autobiography of an individual’s own life, the Confessions presents to us the various points in the life of author which determined the penning and reason of his other major works including Emile, The Social Contract and Discourse on Inequality. In other words, it forms a background reading towards understanding his other works.

In the words of Rousseau, the reason of writing this work was to present an honest account of his life, character and various undertakings (music composition, letter writing and essay writing) and also as an answer or justification against the laments of his unjust enemies, who, in his own opinion, instigated a plot against his reputation. Amongst others, including his friends, the one name that was frequently mentioned was that of Voltaire. Disappointed with the ways of high society and suffering immensely for their disdains, Rousseau decided to live a simple, rustic life i.e. relinquishing the material comforts and leading a life with bare minimum necessities. It is what forms the background of his works, ‘Discourse on inequality’ and ‘The Social Contract’, where he emphasizes on the natural state of a human being i.e. the physical freedom and a liberty to do essentially as they wish. It must be noted here, that Rousseau believed himself to be a subject of ridicule and disdain of his friends for his decision to lead a simple life.

Though, it was this stand of his, which made his account seem biased in the sense that there was a consistent rambling of the wrongs that he had supposedly suffered on behalf of his enemies. Although, Rousseau, in the very beginning state that-

“Since I have undertaken to reveal myself absolutely to the public, nothing about me must remain hidden or obscure. I must remain incessantly beneath his gaze, so that he may follow me in all the extravagances of my heart and into every least corner of my life. Indeed, he must never lose sight of me for a single instant, for if he finds the slightest gap in my story... he may wonder what I was doing at that moment... I am laying myself sufficiently open to human malice by telling my story, without rendering myself more vulnerable by any silence.”

and is commendable in the sense that he provides incidents of his own deeds/misdeeds (including theft, his being utterly romantic and state of passion evoked for many women in his life), but still, it somehow seems an exaggerating fact that the whole world (barring three or four very close people) were involved in a conspiracy to ruin his name; this, being the reason why I gave a star less to the work. Here, I also accept that since this is my first reading of a Rousseau work and I haven’t yet read any of his other works or works by his contemporaries, I might also be having an unfair view on the matter. I, therefore, request my friends to suggest me some other works which may lead to clarify my doubts.

One other thing that constantly bothered and seemed questionable was Rousseau’s decision of leaving his children (from wedlock with Theresa) with asylums for the fear that they might be exposed to inferior ways and ideas as practised by other members of Theresa’s family. A man of such learning as Rousseau, taking such action and leaving his own children, display a lack of empathy, which I believe is the very basic of a natural state (as proposed by Rousseau) of human beings. He himself acted as a contradiction to his own views/ beliefs. Though, according to him, it was for the reason that he thought his children would get a better education at asylums than at home, but, it is still unbelievable that he would renounce them and wouldn’t go back even once to see if they got the education he desired for them. And the irony, that he undertook the writing of “Emile- on Education” for the sole purpose of explaining the importance of education. I wonder if he ever contemplated, that abandoned children could face with such anxiety in their lives, that it may render the whole idea of purpose of education irrelevant to them.

During his life, he also witnessed and was tormented by the wide gap between the rich and poor class of the society. That is, of the ways in which sometimes, the people from poor class were exploited by rich class. And also of the ways in which rich or royalty engaged while conversing or dealing with people from lower strata of society. Here he also cited the various incidents, where he felt, that his friends from royalty acted disparagingly. This, being the reason why he wrote ‘Discourse on Inequality’.

Rousseau, during his later years, was expelled by the governments of various places he resided at. So that, his life became a constant changing of places and sufferings he endured, each time he had to move from a place. It is actually very disheartening to note that the governments/ royalty of various states and countries were intent on expelling a man, who was not afraid to put his ideas into words, or as Rousseau himself says,was a victim of a conspiracy designed against him by his enemies. Owing to my little knowledge on the subject, I cannot be a judge of that.

On the whole, the journey through Confessions was not only an insight into the life of Rousseau but also into the ways of the society he lived in. It left me with a keen sense of perplexity and a still bigger question- Has the society improved as a whole, on the views raised in the work or is it an altogether lost cause?

David Lentz

This book is a revelation as it seemed to me a portrait, or perhaps a mask, of the heightened sensibilities of the interior monologue of a genius. "Since my name is certain to live on among men, I do not want the reputation it transmits to be a false one." Indeed, his honesty is remarkable as he writes about the abandonment of his children, his relationship with lovers and his intimate proclivities. Rousseau's life was a fascinating study of an extraordinary and innovative mind. He dined "sometime with princes at noon and supped with peasants at night." Musically self-taught, he invented an alphabetical code for writing music and wrote an opera performed with it in "The Village Soothsayer." His "Social Contract" inspired constitutions in nations struggling with revolution against monarchies to become democracies which earned him threats of sedition and cruel acts of political scorn. His books were burned, the church sought to excommunicate him, his house was stoned and he escaped in exile en route to Berlin through the good graces of philosopher David Hume to England toward the end of his life. At times, often enough, he seems the narcissist subtly engrossed in his many virtues masked in false humility and yet the final, lasting impression is of a masterpiece forged from the crucible of a tormented soul bent upon the diligent and inspired study of the journey of the maturing human heart. Like Voltaire toward the end of his life but before his exile, we find Rousseau living on a lake isle longing only to finish his life in the practice of avid gardening and intellectual pursuits. The translation here by Angela Scholar is richly, gorgeous prose which reminded me of Proust, who I'm confident must have been influenced by Rousseau. This book is, as Rousseau described it, the "most secret history of my soul" and ranks highly on my Top 25 Novels of All Time among the holy literary trinity of France's Proust in "The Remembrance of Lost Time" and Balzac's "Lost Illusions." I really can't urge you strongly enough to carve out the time to read this brilliantly conceived autobiography.

Debbie Zapata

This book is number one on a certain personal challenge list that I created while reading Confessions of a Book-Lover. The author was so enthusiastic about the books he had loved over his lifetime that I made a list of the most appealing ones and was determined to read them in the order he mentioned them. Egan was very young when he started on Rousseau's Confessions and I recall he said it was taken away from him when the adults of the household discovered how he was spending his reading time. At least now I understand why. lol

I've actually put off starting on this list for three years because of being intimidated by this book. I found it was not at all the uninteresting scholarly volume I was expecting. It is actually easy to read (for a book originally published in 1789) and the first section shared some typical Boy Adventures, such as the incident of the walnut tree and the aqueduct.

Unfortunately after that I could not keep my focus where it belonged. I am marking this a DNF but I will come back to it Someday. It just is not what I really want to be reading right now. And since I set the rules for this particular challenge, i am allowing myself to go on to the next title on the list, guilt free and eager to see what my old friend Egan found so charming about it.


The Confessions is not a book about the making of the Discourses, Emile and The Social Contract. It is a book about the making of the man who wrote those works. But the making as perceived, rationalized and presented by a mind prey to conceit, pettiness, perversity and paranoia. These qualities pervade the prose in which he parades the aspects of himself he believes make this an honest and complete portrayal of his character, including vices, virtues and accomplishments.

I cannot be the first person to observe that if the French had not already possessed the term amour-propre it would have had to be invented for Rousseau. Obviously he had considerable justification, but the confounding thing about Rousseau is that he is oblivious to the over-weening pride mixed with a carelessness that time and again leads to mistakes and embarrassments that he brushes aside.

And yet he had a profound effect on politics, education, literature, philosophy, and apparently music. In fact, for the first two thirds of the Confessions, you would think it was the memoir of a composer. He focuses all writing about his professional development on the study of music in an effort to disprove allegations of amateurism and incompetence. There are snitty scenes of disputes with a dismissive Rameau. The last third is almost entirely a paranoid recital of (imagined?) cabals against him by old friends, exile, and illness.

So where is his writing? Certainly Rousseau weaves observations on the people around him and his own quirky, inconsistently held principles throughout the work, and he reports on the logistics of publishing his work, and to some extent on its reception, but I could not perceive any systematic development of the ideas that would inflame governments into burning his works. Indeed, the brief items I’ve read about Rousseau in the course of working my way through the Confessions emphasize his divergence from the times in his basing his work on the emotions of the moment, in contrast to the systems of the philosophes.

I was particularly struck by an article by an article by Peter Abbs in the Sept/Oct issue of Philosophy Now, “The Full Revelation of the Self: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Birth of Deep Autobiography”

It made me realize that I need to get past the annoying presentation, and semi-blind spots such as the hypocrisy of prescribing a method of education in Emile after abandoning his own children to the foundling hospital, one after another. I now think it is essential to go back and reread the Discourses and the Social Contract (so far lost in the mists of time that I can’t remember anything about them) and then to reflect on the Confessions in light of the philosophy. If one just reads the Confessions, one is amused by the endless statements that ‘I would have been a good/simple/contented man’ if it hadn’t been for my master (as an apprentice) / the priests / my ‘friend’ / ...’ Obviously this is related to his opinions about the natural state of man, so to really understand the linkage between the two they should be read close together. And then to consider the usefulness of his philosophy in light of the conclusion one has to draw from the Confessions: that Rousseau would never have been a simple contented man; he oozes the restless, prickly, contrarian from every pore and would have been so if he had been raised by saints.

So, this is a temporary review, hopefully to be augmented upon further reading.


In his autobiographical "Confessions" (published in 1782 - four years after his death) Jean-Jacques Rousseau comes across as a bit of a narcissist. But he's a likable narcissist and he grew on me so that by the end I was sad to say “Goodbye” to “poor Jean-Jacques.” And I enjoyed learning more about 18th Century European history (and France on the eve of its Revolution) along the way.

Here's one of many quotes I liked:

"I had always felt, in spite of Father Berthier's show of affection, that the Jesuits had no love for me, not only as being an Encyclopedist, but also because my views were even more hostile to their principles and influence than the unbelief of my colleagues, since atheistic and religious fanaticism, which approach closely in their common intolerance, are even capable of uniting, as they have done in China, and as they do now against myself; whereas rational and moral religion, which takes away all human control over the conscience, deprives of further resource those who claim that power."
- Book 11, [1761]

Narrated by: Frederick Davidson
Length: 30 hours and 4 minutes
Unabridged Audiobook
Release date: 2012-04-18
Language: English
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.


I was surprised to discover this morning that there is supposed to have been a game of chess played between Rousseau and Hume. Like most of the people in the thread, I am sceptical, particularly in view of the Rousseau quote supplied by "Whiteshark":
Toutes les fois qu’avec le livre de Philidor ou celui de Stamma j’ai voulu m’exercer à étudier des parties, la même chose m’est arrivée; et après m’être épuisé de fatigue, je me suis trouvé plus faible qu’auparavant. Du reste, que j’aie abandonné les échecs, ou qu’en en jouant je me sois remis en haleine, je n’ai jamais avancé d’un cran depuis cette première séance, et je me suis toujours retrouvé au même point où j’étais en la finissant.

Every time I tried to study the game using the books of Philidor or Stamma, the same thing happened; after tiring myself out, I found I played even worse than I had previously. And in general, whether I stopped playing or tried hard, I never got further than I had during that first session, and always found myself at the point I had reached on finishing it.


Not as good as Augustine's, better than Usher's.