Timothy O'Hagan investigates Jean-Jacques Rousseau's writings concerning the formation of humanity, of the individual and of the citizen in his three master works: the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality among Men , Emile and the Social Contract . He explores Rousseau's reflections on the sexes, language and religion.O'Hagan gives Rousseau's arguments a close and sympathetic reading. He writes as a philosopher, not a historian, yet he never loses sight of the cultural context of Rousseau's work.


Rousseau: the life and the work


Geneva: an eccentric upbringing (1712-28)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in the Calvinist city state of Geneva in 1712. Both his parents were citizens, from the class of the moyenne bourgeoisie, which included independent artisans, clergymen, intellectuals and minor political figures. His mother, Suzanne Bernard, was the daughter of a roué who died when she was nine. She was then adopted by a 'pastor…a luminary of the Academy of Geneva and a man of property'. She was considerably richer than her husband, Isaac Rousseau. He was a watchmaker and an unsuccessful dancing master, the descendant of French Huguenots long established in Geneva. Jean-Jacques' mother died a few days after his birth. He was then raised by an aunt and by his cultivated but feckless father. The latter left Geneva in 1722, abandoning his ten-year-old son, after an ignominious confrontation with an officer in the French army, an affair of insults and 'honour', which did not quite result in a duel. He entrusted Jean-Jacques to his wealthy brother-in-law Gabriel Bernard, who in turn sent him to be tutored in rural Bossey by the pastor Lambercier (1722-4). The pastor's daughter was put in charge of the young Jean-Jacques' discipline. As a result, he acquired from her a taste not only for country life, but also for the delights of being spanked by a good-looking young woman, thus adding a significant strand to what would be a disordered sexual life.

After this rustic idyll, Jean-Jacques returned to Geneva to spend four years (1724-8) in miserable apprenticeship, first as a legal clerk [greffier], then as an engraver.

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