Jean-Didier Vincent

Desire and Melancholia The Apocryphal Memoirs of Thérèse, Rousseau’s Wife Publication date : May 11, 2006

“Shrew, slut, cantankerous, stupid, idiotic, ugly, whore, and, to top it all, poisoner: when men feel unable to celebrate a woman’s charms, they slander her, and all of these insults have been heaped on her. And yet for more than thirty years she took care of the greatest French [sic] philosopher of the Enlightenment. She washed his clothes, cooked his food, caressed him, held him in her arms as one holds a child, shared his fears and joys, and was supportive of his dreams. In spite of this, the role she played in the life of this genius is to be regarded as negligible! It is to be hoped that the publication of his Confessions will correct this injustice.”

This is how Thérèse, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s maid, mistress, wife and later widow, is described by Gaston Lavergne, a contemporary. Lavergne, who was a scientist, led a troubled love life and fathered two children that he abandoned. Following in Rousseau’s footsteps, he travelled from Geneva to Corsica, encountering some rather dejected experts and many erudite beauties. In the process, he learned of the complicated relationship between the Rousseaus and James Boswell, the author of The Life of Johnson as well as of extensive journals which show him to be a great diarist and the incarnation and theoretician of eighteenth-century melancholy.
This book is supposed to be Lavergne’s edition of Thérèse Rousseau’s Confessions — which may or may not be fictional.
In this novel, Jean-Didier Vincent, the author of Biologie des passions and Casanova, la contagion du plaisir, continues his exploration of the games that we play around desire, melancholy and guilt. Through the character of Thérèse, the unrecognised and slighted wife, the reader is given a shadow-portrait of Rousseau, seen here as a great melancholy figure, like Boswell.
These apocryphal confessions are a brilliant stylistic exercise, a literary game that will delight anyone who enjoys the writings of Borges and of Oulipo.

A member of the French Academy of Sciences, Jean-Didier Vincent is a professor at the University of Paris-Sud Orsay and at the faculty of medicine at Paris-Sud Kremlin-Bicêtre. He is the director of the Alfred Fessard Institute of Neurobiology and the author of Biologie des passions.