One of the world’s great memoirs, The Confessions is a constant delight (earlier we find out how the young Rousseau peed in the housekeeper’s kettle). I set these passages of intimate self-exposure next to the glorious bits that deal with Rousseau and his father, how they would read romances (novels) together, sometimes getting so involved they would stay up till dawn reading to each other. [I am on the road again; listening to this in the car.]
In this passage, Rousseau has been sent away to a private tutoring situation and is living in the home of the Lamberciers, brother and sister. Miss Lambercier is about thirty. And to be serious about it, he is trying, in his confessions, to get at the secret, most intimate underpinnings of consciousness and desire. How does the sexual wiring get fixed? Why do the most trivial events have such permanent, risible and even tragic consequences in our relations with other?
Also we can see here the genre crossover from private confession to a priest to the modern version, public confession in detail to the whole world via the book.
As Miss Lambercier felt a mother’s affection, she sometimes exerted a mother’s authority, even to inflicting on us when we deserved it, the punishment of infants. She had often threatened it, and this threat of a treatment entirely new, appeared to me extremely dreadful; but I found the reality much less terrible than the idea, and what is still more unaccountable, this punishment increased my affection for the person who had inflicted it. All this affection, aided by my natural mildness, was scarcely sufficient to prevent my seeking, by fresh offences, a return of the same chastisement; for a degree of sensuality had mingled with the smart and shame, which left more desire than fear of a repetition. I was well convinced the same discipline from her brother would have produced a quite contrary effect; but from a man of his disposition this was not probable, and if I abstained from meriting correction it was merely from a fear of offending Miss Lambercier, for benevolence, aided by the passions, has ever maintained an empire over me which has given law to my heart.
This event, which, though desirable, I had not endeavored to accelerate, arrived without my fault; I should say, without my seeking; and I profited by it with a safe conscience; but this second, was also the last time, for Miss Lambercier, who doubtless had some reason to imagine this chastisement did not produce the desired effect, declared it was too fatiguing, and that she renounced it for the future. Till now we had slept in her chamber, and during the winter, even in her bed; but two days after another room was prepared for us, and from that moment I had the honor (which I could very well have dispensed with) of being treated by her as a great boy.
Who would believe this childish discipline, received at eight years old, from the hands of a woman of thirty, should influence my propensities, my desires, my passions, for the rest of my life, and that in quite a contrary sense from what might naturally have been expected? The very incident that inflamed my senses, gave my desires such an extraordinary turn, that, confined to what I had already experienced, I sought no further, and, with blood boiling with sensuality, almost from my birth, preserved my purity beyond the age when the coldest constitutions lose their insensibility; long tormented, without knowing by what, I gazed on every handsome woman with delight; imagination incessantly brought their charms to my remembrance, only to transform them into so many Miss Lamberciers.