chapter  4
Deconstructing Gender: Henriette’s Correspondence with Rousseau
ByAnne-Françoise Gilbert
Pages 12

In the spring of the year 1764 an unknown woman - she calls herself Henriette - addresses quite a long letter to the famous philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. La Nouvelle Héloïse and Emile have been published in 1761 and 1762 respectively. Henriette has read his work and feels enthusiastic about it. Nevertheless, she takes offence at his contemptuous judgement on the female aesthete shown in Emile. This motivates her to take up her pen and extensively depict her own situation. Henriette is a young woman of high society who lives in Paris. She might be about 35 years old. We know hardly anything about her except that she lost her parents and her fortune when she was young. In her social isolation she decided to devote herself to intellectual pursuits. As will be shown, she adheres to the modem ideals of self-determination and self-realization and thus strongly challenges Rousseau’s view on women. Her letter confuses him and brings him into intellectual turmoil.