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Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 3, Issue 2, Fall 2014

Karen Pagani
Pages 68-87
DOI: 10.5840/jems20143215

To Err is Human, to Forgive Supine: Reconciling (and) Subjective Identity in Rousseau’s Émile et Sophie, ou Les Solitaires

This essay interrogates the degree to which the views on anger and reconciliation expressed in Les Solitaires relate to Rousseau’s thoughts on subjectivity and, especially, the radically dissimilar psychological experiences of the individual-acting-as-such and that of the citizen qua citizen. I argue that the conflict and the tragedy with which both Émile and Sophie are confronted in Les Solitaires is cast by Rousseau as a necessary step in their acquisition of a more self-conscious moral perspective that enables both protagonists to articulate and reconcile their bifurcated identities as individuals and as citizens. Through an analysis of Émile’s deliberations concerning the appropriateness of forgiveness in the case of Sophie’s infidelity, I suggest that the very sophistication of the protagonists’ reflections on their unfortunate circumstances reveals their acute awareness as to the difficulties and alienation that inexorably results from the social contract and, it follows, from all contracts that are derived therefrom (particularly that of marriage). As such, the text must be read as a further development upon the principles of education established in Émile, ou de l’Éducation, as well as a devastating and, for Rousseau, out of character condemnation of marriage.

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