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Friday, May 04, 2012

Jacques The Fatalist by Denis Diderot


Book Review
Jacques The Fatalist
A New Translation by David Coward
Oxford World's Classics
written between 1762 and 1780
published in 1796
this translation published in 1999

    Diderot, along with Voltaire and Rousseau, is considered to be one of the three main philosophes of the French Enlightenment.  His cardinal achievement was his encyclopedia, the first of its kind in French.  In addition to being one of the most well known popularizer of Enlightenment era ideals, he also wrote fiction on the side.  Unfortunately, his fiction was "too radical" for the French public when he wrote it, and as a result there was a 20-30 year period when Diderot's novels were only read privately.

  With the exception of Marquis De Sade, whose books were not published in uncensored fashion until the 20th century, Diderot is the only writer on the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list who has these kinds of publication issues until you get into writers who wrote under oppressive 20th century regimes.  Obviously, it's impossible for a work to gain an Audience if publication is forbidden.

  According to the introduction in this edition, Jacques the Fatalist, which tells the story of a master and servant travelling together on the road, was directly inspired by Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, but both Diderot and Sterne were likely inspired by the earlier bawdy work of French author Rabelais, who appears on the 1001 Books list with Gargantua and Pantagruel.  All three works are characterized by digression and bawdiness, and all three anticipate the self-reflexivity of modern fiction.

 Other then the historical significance, there isn't much to recommend Jacques to a modern reader.

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