The Prelude

Isolation and the Sublime in Rousseau and Wordsworth

In their article entitled “Me,” Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royale assert that “Literature, like art more generally, has always been concerned with aspects of what can be called the… ‘not me’ or other,” (Bennett 129-130). Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Confessions and William Wordsworth in his The Two-Part Prelude expound upon this issue of isolation from humanity as it relates to achieving a more natural state of existence. Although both Rousseau and Wordsworth analyze moments of isolation from what can be considered social normalcy, each author approaches this seclusion differently in his attempt to better embody natural man. Wordsworth seems to focus primarily on the internal, socially independent dynamics of his psyche, while Rousseau seeks a more natural state of being through analyzing his interactions with others. Rousseau, through the disarmingly candid tone of this work, conveys an exclusively mental isolation, while Wordsworth employs a more veiled and metaphorical strategy to succeed in achieving a simultaneously mental and physical withdrawal from modern convention. Ultimately, the constant influence of society in Rousseau’s Confessions impedes his ability to achieve an effective return to Nature, while Wordsworth’s...

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