Let’s take up where we left off: with Madame de Stael’s remark that, in our current social arrangements, women are “neither in the order of nature nor in the order of society.”
D’Agoult cites de Stael not to refer to Rousseau’s time, but to the new, post revolutionary society. However, since the very staging of that opposition is, in a sense, signed by Rousseau, it is natural to think that Rousseau would have something to say to women and about women. In fact, when d’Agoult writes that Rousseau “spoke” to women, she could well be referring to the introduction of Emile, in which Rousseau literally says that he is speaking to mothers. Less literally, the Nouvelle Heloise was an event in the third life of women all over Europe, and surely the letters of Julie speak to women, in d’Agoult’s sense.
Certainly, d’Agoult is onto something when she contrasts Condorcet, with his eagerness to end the system of submission that shackles women in the civil sphere, and Rousseau, for whom it would seem that a woman’s place is in the private sphere. By the social logic that opposes independence and dependence, women, then, should be dependent. And yet, this can’t be all the story. Rousseau could see, and even advocate for, the transformation of the order of dependence, the traditional order; by committing himself to this change, he deprives himself of the traditional reasons that women should be dependent. He deprives himself of the social sanction of that hierarchy. Moreover, how can women have a place at all if all places are to be rearranged? If the old order’s corruption calls for revolutionary action? In fact, as Helena Rosenblatt has pointed out in an article defending Rousseau from the charge of misogyny, even in the Letter to D’Alembert, which has often been seen as the most misogynistic of Rousseau’s writings about women, a closer reading will find that Rousseau is not writing against all women, but pleading the case for women of civic virtue. For Rosenblatt, one should never forget that Rousseau wrote: “Every revolution began with the women. Through a woman Rome gained her liberty, through a woman the plebians obtained the consulate, through a woman the tyranny of the decemvirs was ended; it was the women who saved Rome [when besiged by Coriolanus].”
In all of these examples, Rosenblatt claims, we see women in a different light than in the usual Enlightenment discourse about the ‘softening’ power of women. Rather, Rousseau aimed at the opposite.
And yet, those examples of women outside the house are also examples of states of emergency. If the revolution begins with women, doesn’t it end by putting women back in their place?
The theme I’d like to follow, the effect I’d like to investigate in Rousseau, is, in a sense, a detour around the question of whether D’Agoult is right, or whether Rosenblatt is right. It is the question of the place of these beings who are not in nature or society. I am inspired here by the starting point of Mira Morgenstern’s book on Rousseau. Why, Morgenstern asks, is it that the model of a woman’s place in Emile and the Nouvelle Heloise is in such discord with the arc of the narrative in both books? For surely if the author of Emile is right about women, then the education of Sophie should be crowned with success, rather than tragedy. And Julie’s ultimate failure to be happy in her marriage to Wolmar in the Nouvelle Heloise – Wolmar, the man who her father chose, and who does his best to get her to love him – condemns absolutely that marriage and all the arrangement of the idyll of Clarens, their utopian estate?
Why is it that Rousseau does not gild his theme of women’s place with happy endings, in other words? Why does the narrative force seem to perversely turn upon the conceptual advice? Where is a woman’s ‘place’ in all of this?
I am not taking that as a starting place for an examination of the narratives so much as an allowance for seeking the source of the tension created in Rousseau’s work by women. Ultimately, I want to focus on a suggestion of Morgenstern’s in her brilliant chapter on the household set up by Wolmar and Julie in la Nouvelle Heloise. In a subsection about women and power entitled The Benevolent Patriarchy, she shows that the utopian arrangement of the household set up by Wolmar at Clarens, she writes:
“On the face of it, then, Clarens would appear to be the perfect example of benevolent paternalism. However, here the paradox reappears: using the familial metaphor based on love to operate an estate that must be run on the principles of order, although perhaps in a different guise than expected. Wolmar does use love to run the entire estate, servants and family alike. But this love is not a true emotion. Rather, it is a disguise for absolute control. This use of love as a cover for authoritarian domination emphasizes Wolmar’s cynical realization that while different principles ostensibly underlie the organization of family, citizens, and servants, any relationship involving people can be translated into a matter of politics and power, albeit in different strengths and forms.” (208)
The problem of dependence for Rousseau is the problem of attachment. As St. Preux himself remarks about the Wolmar’s schema, the whole thing is based on attachment.
‘They [the servants] well know that their surest fortune is attached to that of the master, and that they will never lack anything so long as the house is seen to prosper. In serving it, therefore, they serve their patrimony, and augment it in rendering their services agreeable. This is their greatest interest. But this word is hardly in its place on this occasion; for I have never seen a place where the rules [police] or the interests are so wisely managed, and where, however, they have less influence than here. Everything is done by attachment: one might say that venal souls are purified in entering into this abode of wisdom and union.” [1873:430]
Rousseau’s utopian solution to the problem of interest has not drawn enough attention, Morgenstern thinks. Underneath Wolmar’s benevolence is a very manipulative economic structure:
The second obstacle to the servants’ developing any independent notions of their own good as distinct from the well-being of their masters lies in the economic structure of Clarens. Wolmar’s aim is to make the small estate of Clarens as self-sufficient as possible. To this end, outside trade is discouraged unless it is strictly necessary. Further enforcing the autarky of Clarens is the internal exchange system fostered among the inhabitants and workers of Clarens. Thus, for example, the grocer is paid with grain for his supplies, while the rents are used to furnish the houses owned by Wolmar. This economic system, dispensing as much as possible with the circulation of money, finds its philosophical justification in the avoidance of any intermediaries that can render human exchange potentially inauthentic. A most important side effect of this self sufficiency, however, is that this exchange system effectively prevents the servants and workers of Clarens from ever leaving.” 
Here, indeed, is place – place closed upon itself. It is here that the problem of the place of women finds a solution – a solutin which, on another scale, is the solution for society as a whole. But the problem with this solution is two-fold: it fosters desperate attachments, rather than love; and it prevents and minimizes the chance of a stranger appearing. The latter is, I think, crucial to Rousseau’s unresolvable problem of reconciling love and place.