Julie; or the New Heloise Summary

  • Last updated on June 12, 2023

Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Title: Julie; or the New Heloise

Publish Date: 1761

Genre: Epistolary Novel

Page Length: 718

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Julie; or the New Heloise is an epistolary novel with the themes of love, duty, and passion at the forefront. The novel follows the story of three lovers and their struggles in navigating societal expectations in 18th-century France. The novel consists of a series of letters between the central characters, Julie, Saint-Preux, and Wolmar.

The novel is intentionally divided into four parts; the first two parts focus on the love affair between Julie and Saint-Preux while contrasting their love with their social standings. The third part, however, shifts the focus to Wolmar, Julie's husband, and his relationship with her. The final part, in turn, concludes the story with Julie's death and the resolution of the intertwined love stories.

Part One introduces the main characters, Julie and Saint-Preux, as childhood friends who, many years later, reunite. Julie is now engaged to be married and living a comfortable life with her father, Monsieur de Wolmar. Saint-Preux, on the other hand, is struggling in his studies and seeking a job. When the two meet, their love for each other resurfaces despite their newfound statuses and social differences. They try to resist their feelings, but their passions are too strong, and they eventually consummate their love secretly. When Julie's father learns of their affair, he forbids them from seeing each other again.

Part Two follows Saint-Preux, who is now employed as a tutor, as he tries to forget Julie. Despite his efforts, he is unable to do so and finds himself longing for her. Meanwhile, Julie's father arranges her marriage to Wolmar, who is her social equal. At first, Julie tries to force herself to love Wolmar, but after realizing that he is a kind and gentle man, she comes to respect and eventually love him. Saint-Preux, when learning of the marriage, becomes jealous, and in a feverish state, he writes his love letters to Julie. He sends the letters to Wolmar, who, after reading them, invites Saint-Preux to stay with them. He welcomes Saint-Preux as a friend and offers him a job as his assistant.

Part Three mainly focuses on Wolmar and his relationship with Julie. Wolmar is a loving husband who is devoted to his wife and their family. He is content with his life and feels that his duty to Julie is far more important than his feelings for her. Wolmar is also aware of Saint-Preux's lingering love for Julie and is willing to overlook it as long as it doesn't cause any harm. Wolmar eventually convinces Saint-Preux to leave Julie and to marry another woman, which he does.

The final part of the novel sees Julie falling ill and dying. Saint-Preux returns to be with Julie in her final moments, and the two profess their love for each other one last time. Wolmar forgives Saint-Preux for his past indiscretions, and the novel concludes with a reflection on the importance of love and duty in human life.

The themes of love, duty, and passion run throughout Julie; or the New Heloise. Rousseau critiques the societal norms of his time, highlighting how they restrict people from following their hearts. The novel also explores the complexities of love and the consequences of acting upon passions. The novel's characters each struggle with their desires and obligations, questioning what constitutes happiness and a fulfilling life.

In conclusion, Julie; or the New Heloise is a significant literary work that embodies Rousseau's philosophy and thought. It's a romantic and melancholic novel that expresses the depth of human emotions and highlights the challenges of balancing social norms and following one's heart. The novel is an excellent example of epistolary literature and is still relevant today, highlighting the importance of love, duty, and passion in human life.

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