- File Size: 3239 KB
- Print Length: 261 pages
- Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (July 27, 2006)
- Publication Date: July 27, 2006
- Sold by: PEN UK
- Language: English
- ASIN: B003AYZBH0
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,359 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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|Print List Price:||$19.00|
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Jacques the Fatalist: And His Master (Classics) Kindle Edition
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It's ponderous, obtuse and slow as molasses. It jumps back and forth, regaling itself in its style of interruptions and side-tracks. Largely "conversational" the story's 2 main characters engage each other in an interminable conversation, often characterized by rather "smart ass" commentary by both, and interrupted by late 1700s ribald adventures. Besides that, the philosophy and life views expressed are decidedly passé, some 130-140 years later, and - worse - kind of uninteresting. Is this one of the first novels? I'll pass on that question.
For me "Jacques" is impossible to rate, though rate it I must. It's no more than a 2 in my mind, but others may find it fascinating and a grand commentary on life in the late 1700s, as well as find reason to analyze it for its novel structure and format. I'm satisfied to delete it from my Kindle.
America was an impressive idea when Denis Diderot died in 1784 and then this translation by J. Robert Loy was copyright 1959 after Abe Lincoln preserved the Union and was assassinated in 1865. To quote what nobody should know:
My master, my dear master, you are going to kick against a prick that will prick you the more painfully.
There is really no plot as such. Jacques, a man who seems to believe everything that happens is already written "up on high", but who nonetheless keeps making decisions for himself, is riding through France with his unnamed master, a man who is skeptic of Jacques's determinism but who remains rather passive throughout the book. Fate and the creator-author will put repeatedly to test Jacques's theory, through a series of more or less fortunate accidents and situations, as well as by way of numerous asides in the form of subplots or stories.
The novel is totally disjointed and these asides and subplots blurb all over the place, always interrupted themselves by other happenings. The most interesting of them is the story of Madame de Pommeroy and her bitter but ultimately ineffectual revenge on her ex-lover.
Diderot confesses to having taken much from Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" and Cervantes's "Don Quixote". This last novel's influence seems obvious at two levels: Cervantes also talks to the reader, especially in Part Two, and also reflects abundantly on the creative process. Moreover, the tone and environment of the book is very similar to the Quixote: two people engaged in an endless philosophical conversations while roaming around the countryside and facing several adventures which serve to illustrate one or antoher point of view.
Diderot's humour is bawdy and practical and the book is fun to read. The exact philosophical point is not clearcut, but it will leave the reader wondering about Destiny, Fate, and Free Will.
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So what is it? "A rambling collection of oft-interrupted anecdotes" might be one answer. Put simply, Jacques and his un-named master are travelling to an un-named destination for an unspecified reason. To pass the time, the master asks Jacques to recount the story of his love-life, which Jacques proceeds to do, although he never manages to get far before he is interrupted (or interrupts himself, or is interrupted by Diderot the author) by other anecdotes, reminiscences or encounters on the road. Afterwards, Jacques is told to continue from where he left off, only to be interrupted again shortly afterwards. He is referred to as a Fatalist because of his oft-quoted belief that everything that happens has already been determined in advance, and has been written down in great detail on some celestial scroll. Jacques does sort of get to the end of his tale by the end of the book, though Diderot gives us a choice of three endings, and asks us to choose which we like the best.
Diderot the author is also a character in the book, breaking into the narrative in many places to explain himself (or not), or to suggest avenues down which he might or might not take the story. He also ropes the reader in by posing - in the reader's name - a number of questions to himself, chiefly along the lines of "What's going to happen?" or "When are you going to get on with it?"
Various other stories are interwoven with the tale of Jacques' loves - which stories are themselves interrupted and told in episodic form. Chiefly they revolve around romantic adventures and sexual peccadillos, though the nearest Diderot comes to lapsing into bawdiness is when he criticises the reader for objecting to his use of coarse language.
The book has some philosophical musings (eg "Religion and law are a pair of crutches that should not be taken away from those with weak limbs"), and a number of satirical barbs. Most of the latter, however, have dated badly and need to be explained via the notes.
According to the introduction, Diderot wrote this book on and off over a period of fifteen years, and it was only published after his death. This, I think, shows up in its episodic and sometimes rambling nature. It is a book which feels unfinished - a first draft that would have benefitted greatly from a bit of revision. Nevertheless the writing has zest and panache, and is highly entertaining. Whether it should be regarded as a classic, however, or as an interesting curiosity - that's something on which the jury is still out.