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Friday, April 13, 2012

RAMEAU'S NEPHEW BY DENIS DIDEROT

BOOK REVIEW
Rameau's Nephew and First Satire
By Denis Diderot
Translation by Margaret Mauldon
With and Introduction and Notes By Nicholas Cronk
written 1760s-1770s
published in German Translation 1805
This Edition 2006
Oxford World's Classics

  Of the 13 books from the "1700s" in the 2006 Edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, seven of them are by French Authors.  Specifically, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (4) and Denis Diderot (3).

  Rameau's Nephew is the first of those seven to fall, because I already had a copy sitting on my shelf.  Reading the introduction, I remembered why I had actually put this book down after starting- Rameau's Nephew ranks up there with Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy in inaccessibility to the modern reader.  Tristram Shandy, at least, is in the form of a Novel, whereas Rameau's Nephew takes the form of a "philosophical dialogue" between "ME" (Diderot) and "HIM" (A "Grub Street Hack" living in mid 18th century Paris.)
    Both books draw on the tradition of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel- a series of five books published in the 16th century by French writer Francois (accent omitted) Rabelais.  Like Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rameau's Nephew is not, itself, a novel, but the style and content was absorbed by later Novelists.  I mean that the two characters of Rameau's Nephew have a life to them that is lacking of other books written during the same time period, and more resemble the world-wise anti-heroes of Flaubert then the cardboard picar-esque character of your Peregrine Pickles or your Humphrey Clinkers.
    Certainly not a work for a casual peruser of 18th century literature,  Rameau's Nephew is best read in a critical edition, whether that be paperback or e reader- you can't just stumble through the 100 pages that comprise Rameau's Nephew and hope to "get" it- there needs to be some background with the underlying scene (specifically, the French philosophes of the Enlightenment.)

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