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    Rereading the forbidden in 'La Nouvelle Héloïse'

    Lewis, Ann (2003) Rereading the forbidden in 'La Nouvelle Héloïse'. In: Facques, B. and Roberts, H. and Roberts, H. (eds.) Reading and Writing the Forbidden: Essays in French Studies. Reading, UK: 2001 Group. ISBN 0954685404.

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    Rousseau’s bestselling epistolary novel, 'Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse' (1761), is a story of forbidden love. With its explicit reference to the letters of Heloise and Abelard which were popular and frequently re-edited in eighteenth-century France, the novel explores the (il)legitimate status of the love between Julie d’Étange and her tutor Saint-Preux - their sexual relationship forbidden by social and moral conventions, their desire to marry prohibited by Julie’s father, and their love definitively outlawed when she marries the man of her father’s choice. The novel captured the imagination of many eighteenth-century readers and resulted in an outpouring of emotional responses, recorded in letters to Rousseau which have themselves become famous. Instead of looking at the theme of forbidden love itself, I focus on the reading strategies suggested, and forbidden by the text. Rousseau’s ‘paratexts’ draw specific attention to the problematics of reading, and his insistent attempts to direct the reader to a ‘total’ and linear (and therefore moral) reading paradoxically point to the interest in exploring what happens if the reader chooses not to read in this way. In particular, I explore the effects of reading for the part rather than the whole, and of reading in reverse (changing the sequence of reading), and the functioning of ‘sentimental scenes’ in this context. An examination of the function of detaching, isolating, re-ordering and re-reading various parts of the novel, serves both to re-evaluate the theme of the forbidden in the novel, and also to consider more broadly the point at which reading becomes misreading, or whether forbidden readings are necessarily ‘wrong’.


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