Teaser Tuesday: Julie, or the New Heloise, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

23 Feb

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Usually, I only read one book at once (fiction, that is).  But over the next six months I will be thinking about eighteenth-century France in preparation for a summer school I’m teaching.  So I’ll be reading and re-reading the fiction of the period, but I don’t want that to be all I read.  So I’m going to try reading one book at home and another one on public transport and everywhere else!  My ‘home’ book is still When Christ and His Saints Slept and my ‘away’ book is Julie, or The New Heloise by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

This is a book I’ve had on my shelves for many years and never actually got round to, although it’s an important classic – a romantic eighteenth-century bestseller which had a far-reaching influence on the development of the novel.  It is rather a chunkster, which may have put me off.  But it’s also a novel in letters, so it’s broken up into quite short segments.  So far I’ve read letters from Julie d’Étange, a young girl of good family living in Switzerland, and Saint-Preux, her tutor, who has fallen in love with her but knows it is hopeless because he won’t be considered sufficiently rich and well-born to marry her.

The first teaser is from a Saint-Preux letter, the second from one of Julie’s.  I’ve quoted first from the 1997 translation by Philip Stewart and Jean Vache, then the equivalent passage in the French language Pleiade edition, which is the one I’m actually reading.

A hundred times a day I am tempted to throw myself at your feet, to bathe them in my tears, there to find death or forgiveness.  Each time a mortal terror numbs my courage; my knees tremble and dare not bend; the words expire on my lips, and my soul can muster no reassurance against the dread of provoking you.

That’s Saint-Preux writing to Julie.  Here’s the original French:

Cent fois le jour je suis tenté de me jetter à vos pieds, de les arroser de mes pleurs, d’y obtenir la mort ou mon pardon.  Toujours un effroi mortal glace mon courage; mes genoux tremblent et n’osent fléchir; la parole expire sur mes lèvres, et mon ame ne trouve aucune assurance contre la frayeur de vous irriter.

Okay, now here’s Julie:

I believe, I hope, that a heart that seemed to me deserving of all the affection of my own will not belie the generosity I am expecting of it.  I further hope that if it were craven enough to take advantage of my disarray and of the admissions it has wrested from me, contempt and indignation would restore the reason I have lost, and I would not myself be so craven as to fear a lover of whom I should have to be ashamed.

And en français:

Je crois, j’espère, qu’un cœur qui m’a paru mériter tout l’attachement du mien ne démentira pas la générosité que j’attends de lui.  J’espère encore qui s’il était assez lâche pour abuser de mon égarement et des aveux qu’il m’arrache, le mépris, l’indignation me rendroient la raison que j’ai perdue, et que je ne serais pas assez lâche moi-même pour craindre un amant dont j’aurais à rougir.

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10 Responses to “Teaser Tuesday: Julie, or the New Heloise, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau”

  1. The Literary Omnivore February 23, 2010 at 12:29 #

    Such eloquent forbidden love! I hope this is good.

    Here’s my teaser- it’s Shakespeare.

    • Miss Moppet February 23, 2010 at 17:12 #

      It’s good so far but I only just started it so maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon!

  2. Alayne February 23, 2010 at 17:42 #

    Thanks for visiting The Crowded Leaf. Good luck with both books!

  3. laurelrainsnow February 23, 2010 at 18:15 #

    Oh, this book has a fabulous cover, as well as beautiful passages.

    Here’s mine:


    • Miss Moppet February 23, 2010 at 22:52 #

      Yes, isn’t the cover lovely? The image is one of the original illustrations for the book, engraved by Jacques Aliamet after Hubert-Francois Gravelot, who illustrated many other 18th century books including another bestselling novel, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. The title is ‘La force paternelle’ (Paternal Power) and these are Rousseau’s original instructions to the artist (in an appendix to the novel):

      The Scene takes place in the bedroom of the Baron d’Etange, Julie’s father. Julie is seated, and close to her chair is an empty armchair: her father, who occupied it, is on his knees in front of her, holding her hands, shedding tears, and in a pleading and pathetic posture. Julie’s eyes are full of emotion, agitation and pain. A certain air of weariness about her shows that she has made every effort to raise her father to his feet or to release herself from his grip; but having been unsuccessful, she lets her head fall back against the back of her chair, like someone about to be ill, while her two hands are still stretched out to her father’s arms. The Baron should have a venerable physiognomy, white hair, a military bearing, with – although he is begging – something of nobility and pride.

      La Force Paternelle Detail

      The different types of chair used by Julie and her father are significant. Chairs had a hierarchy in ancien regime France – the footstool was the least prestigious type of seating, then the chair (no arms), then the armchair. At Court there were strict rules about who could sit down in the royal presence and what type of chair they were allowed to use. At home the head of the household (Julie’s father) is entitled to the armchair and his daughter only to a chair without arms. So when the conversation begins all is as it should be, but at this point the Baron has not only abandoned his throne, he has gone on his knees before his own daughter. This overturning of the hierarchy would seem far more shocking to the novel’s original readers than it does to us.

  4. Barbara On the Bookcase February 23, 2010 at 21:26 #

    very interesting — thanks for bringing my attention to this book. I think I will read this. love classic literature

    here’s mine

  5. Clarissa February 24, 2010 at 02:39 #

    I adore your teaser. And your book description. I love reading books with letters!!! Can’t find it in my uni library :(

    Thanks for visiting mine :)

    • Miss Moppet February 24, 2010 at 03:27 #

      Shame on the library for not having it! Some other 18th century letter-novels they might have which I would recommend are Evelina by Frances Burney, Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, Lady Susan by Jane Austen, Pamela and Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. All fun!

  6. Marg February 24, 2010 at 09:08 #

    It’s amazing how emotive a string of words can be in a good author’s hands! Lovely.

  7. Rowenna February 24, 2010 at 15:32 #

    I just discovered this Rousseau novel while doing other research and intend to read Julie soon!

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