La Nouvelle Heloise
Julie, or the New Heloise
This novel really was a roller coaster ride for me. I went from hating it, to liking it, to disliking it, and finally to loving it. I read Moby Dick in between this and my last book and that was not as much as an experience for me, although Moby Dick is infinitely better known.
Let's start with why I initially hated it. The book started out with the most insecure, insufferable whiners I had ever had the misfortune of reading about. Saint-Preux was in love with Julie, who he had tutored all through her childhood. I think it would have been interesting to read about how they fell in love but the novel picks up after they are already sickeningly committed to each other. Their letters, though filled with romantic language, were actually quite vicious to each other, and I predicted a murder-suicide. In one chapter, Julie sent Saint-Preux a portrait of herself. She wanted it to be really accurate so he wouldn't fall in love with "charms she did not possess" because then he would be unfaithful. Maybe she had good reason for being insecure, because Saint Preux later ended up sleeping with a prostitute in a whorehouse. He says it wasn't his fault because he was drunk and had mistaken water for white wine. I am sorry, but if you get those two liquids mixed up, you are already pretty wasted. But I digress...
Anyway, about half way through the novel, the whining stops and a really bittersweet resolution appears. Of course, to tell you why I like it so much would ruin it for you, so I must stop myself. After that, Rousseau gets too preoccupied with secondary characters (the cause of my disliking phase). At the end, though, Rousseau's writing is absolutely phenomenal which is reason enough to read it. In fact, I had to keep reading out loud his last end note to random people because it was so sweet and thought-provoking. So check it out, but don't buy a copy off Amazon because their versions suck.
This novel was so successful that publishers could not print copies fast enough and ended up having to rent out copies, sometimes by the hour. People loved the book so much that they flooded Rousseau with letters, making him the first "celebrity author".
Voltaire called the novel's success "the infamy of the century". Jealous, much?