chapter  4
38 Pages

Seducing the Reader? Perversion and Disruption in Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse

Perhaps more than any other author in eighteenth-century French literature, JeanJacques Rousseau was conscious of literature’s danger, and of the text’s potential to seduce the reader. Indeed, his remarks in the preface to his best-selling novel, Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse, arguably sum up an entire century’s anxieties about the risks that reading presented for young women. In an oft-quoted passage that takes the form of a dialogue between a character named “R,” who claims to be the “éditeur” of the work, and “N,” with whom he discusses the novel, “R” remarks: “An honest maiden does not read love stories. May she who reads this one, despite its title, not complain of the harm it has done her: she lies. The harm was already done; she has nothing more to risk.”1