This essay shows that the pre-Romantic conception of the late Rousseau as alone in nature has led to misunderstandings of the project of the Rêveries du promeneur solitaire as an exclusively solipsistic text about Rousseau’s self turning inward. Focusing on the central “Fifth Promenade” of the Rêveries, this article argues that, on the contrary, it is an early enactment of the literary realism of the nineteenth-century novel that faces outward by describing both society and nature. The article shows how society and the state are included within its narrative, which employs several features typical of realism. The presence of details describing the natural and social environment is linked to how the “Promenade” centers his scientific attention to plant life on the island. That fact points to the deep epistemological connection between science and realism. Rousseau’s text, which is explicitly bound up with his practice of collecting plants to preserve them in herbaria, achieves this through an epistemology of synecdoche and the microcosm that makes it possible to move between part and whole.

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