J. J. Rousseau, Julia: or, The New Eloisa (1761)

In the second Preface to La Nouvelle Heloise, Rousseau argues that country and city life are radically different:

The perceptions of persons in retirement are very different from those of people in the great world; their passions being differently modified, are differently expressed; their imaginations . . . are more violently affected. . . . But does it follow that their language is more energetic? No; it is only uncommon. . . . Do you imagine that persons of real sensibility express themselves with that vivacity, energy, and ardour, which you so much admire in our drama and romances? No; true passion, full of itself, is rather diffusive than emphatical. . . . In expressing its feelings, it speaks rather for the sake of its own ease, than to inform others. (xix-xx)

Describing the characters of his novel, he says:

They lived in retirement, and therefore could know but little of the world. Filled with one single sentiment, they are in a constant delirium, and yet presume to philosophise. Would you have them know how to observe, to judge, and to reflect? No: of these they are ignorant. . . . They discourse of everything, and are constantly mistaken: they teach us nothing, except the knowledge of themselves; but in making themselves known, they obtain our affection. . . . Their honest hearts, even in their transgressions, bear still the prejudice of virtue, always confident and always betrayed. . . . [T]hey find nothing correspond with their own feelings; and therefore, detaching themselves from the rest of the universe, they create, in their separate society, a little world of their own. . . . (xxiii)

The promptings of sensibility lead naive rustics to seclude themselves from society and create an alternative order.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography