Writers

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau

1712-1778

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer. Rousseau's mother died shortly after his birth and his father abandoned him when he was 10. Young Jean-Jacques was sent to live with an uncle, who had the child fostered out. From about age fourteen Jean-Jacque was on his own. He was often homeless and did a variety of working class jobs to support himself. Jean-Jacque was fortunate at the age of sixteen to meet Francois-Louise de Warens (1690-1762), who took the boy in and supported him financially and emotionally. Rousseau's political philosophy influenced the progress of the Enlightenment throughout Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution and the development of modern political, economic and educational thought. His Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract are cornerstones in modern political and social thought. Rousseau's sentimental novel Julie, or the New Heloise (1761) was important to the development of preromanticism and romanticism in fiction. His Emile, or On Education (1762) is an educational treatise on the place of the individual in society. Rousseau's autobiographical writings—the posthumously published Confessions (composed in 1769), which initiated the modern autobiography, and the unfinished Reveries of the Solitary Walker (composed 1776–1778)—exemplified the late-18th-century "Age of Sensibility", and featured an increased focus on subjectivity and introspection that later characterized modern writing.