Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Theory of the Novel: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Preface (1762) to La Nouvelle Heloise (1760).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Preface (1762) to La Nouvelle Heloise (1760).
Nature and the Supernatural in the Novel as argued in the following excerpt:
N .... These letters are not letters, this novel is not a novel: you characters are people from another world.
R. I'm sorry for this world then.
N. Don't worry; there are plenty of mad people here too. You characters, however, are not to be found in nature.
R .... Why make up your mind about them in this way? Do you really claim to know just how far men can differ from each other how much characters vary, or to just what extent customs an prejudices alter with time, place and period? Who dares to set precise limits to nature and say: man can go as far as this, but no further?
N. By that remarkable reasoning, unheard-of monsters, giants, pygmies, fantasies of every kind, could all be admitted as parts of the natural order and portrayed. We should no longer possess any common standard. I repeat, in representations of human nature, everyone must be able to distinguish the human being.
R. I agree with that, provided that one also knows how to distinguish what makes for differences of type from what is essential to the species. What would you think of people who could only recognize members of our own species when they are dressed as Frenchmen?
N. What would you think of the man who, without describing form or feature, sets about portraying a human being with a veil for clothing? Wouldn't one have the right to ask him where the human being was?
R. Without describing form or feature? Are you being fair? That there are no perfect people-that is the really unlikely thing ... I must ask you to look once more at the inscription on the copy.
N. Les Belles Ames! [the beautiful souls] Fine sounding words!
R. 0 philosophy, what pains you are at to shrivel human hearts and make men paltry.
N. But the romantic spirit exalts and deceives ...
Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Preface (1762) to La Nouvelle Heloise (1760

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