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    Rousseau, Diderot, class and prostitution

    Lewis, Ann (2018) Rousseau, Diderot, class and prostitution. In: Society for French Studies Annual Conference, 2-4 July 2018, University of Cork, Ireland. (Unpublished)

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    This paper focuses on two key works of eighteenth-century fiction, Diderot's 'Jacques le fataliste' and Rousseau's 'Julie ou la nouvelle Héloïse'. In each novel, the notion of prostitution is explored obliquely, but serves to problematize and interrogate core moral values around sociability, honour, love and intermarriage between social classes. In Rousseau’s 'Julie', the story of the love affairs of Milord Edouard – with two women of different rank, whose moral behavior is seemingly at odds with their social status – is relegated to an appendix. But, from the margins, this narrative provides a set of fascinating reflections on the core themes of the central plot (in which Julie is forced to marry her father’s best friend, for reasons of the father’s ‘honour’, rather than the man she with whom she is in love (and has had a sexual relationship), her tutor and her social inferior Saint-Preux. Revealingly, in a letter to her cousin Claire, Julie angrily states at one point ‘Enfin mon père m’a donc vendue! il fait de sa fille une marchandise, une esclave! il s’acquitte à mes dépens! il paye sa vie de la mienne!...’ – an interesting inflection of the notion of ‘honour’ to which she has been subjected. The striking parallels between Julie’s status as a fallen woman ‘redeemed’ and that of ‘Laure’, the penitent prostitute who must sacrifice her own happiness with Milord Edouard, opens up a number of questions regarding the novel’s moral message as a whole. In Diderot’s 'Jacques le fataliste', the scene of revelation and reconciliation between a nobleman who has unknowingly married a former prostitute due to the machinations of a vengeful (aristocratic) ex-lover, provides the pathetic and dramatic peak of the novel’s central episode, in what is otherwise a fragmentary and anti-sentimental text. The difficulty of judging such an episode is brought to the fore by a series of framing commentaries, and allows the reader to consider the connections between opinion, prejudice, virtue – and moral assumptions relating to social class.


    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
    Additional Information: Invited as part of a panel: 'Culture and Class'
    School: School of Arts > Cultures and Languages (to 2020)
    Depositing User: Ann Lewis
    Date Deposited: 09 May 2022 18:22
    Last Modified: 09 May 2022 18:22


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