Last night I read, for the third or fourth time, Diderot’s second satire, commonly known as Rameau’s Nephew (Oxford World’s Classics, translated by Margaret Mauldon). If you’ve never read it, you’ve missed (as I did until recently) not just one of the world’s great classics but one of the most modern pieces of literature you’ll ever come upon.

It’s also great fun. The nephew of the title (yes, that Rameau) is one of the finest characters of fiction, right up there with Shakespeare’s and Dickens’s. Rameau’s Nephew was written about 1761 but not published until Goethe got hold of it by circuitous means, and then it was published in bowdlerized versions for most of the next century until a true copy showed up in a used book stall. The story of the manuscript is itself worth reading.

I think you’ll see what I mean by its being modern. It’s as if the intervening centuries melt away like the manners and inhibitions of a long, alien regime we’ve had to endure but can now return to our more natural way of thinking and feeling.

See if you don’t agree.

About Thomas J. Hubschman

Thomas J. Hubschman is the author of Look at Me Now, My Bess, Song of the Mockingbird, Billy Boy, Father Walther’s Temptation, The Jew’s Wife & Other Stories and three science fiction novels. His work has appeared in New York Press, The Antigonish Review, Eclectica, The Blue Moon Review and many other publications. Two of his short stories were broadcast on the BBC World Service.

Posted on May 17, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Oh I’m consumed with curiosity. We are going to be on holiday for a week in June and I have bought The Jew’s Wife because loading it onto my newly-acquired Kindle – ach, it’s a longer story than it is interesting. Anyway, I bought the paperback which is being delivered from Pennsylvania, and I have promised myself not to start another book except for that one until The Big Bang to Now, 2nd edition, is securely ready for its final fling.

    Then Diderot. You’re adding a lot of pages to turn in my life!

  2. I hope you like the Diderot as much as I do, Terry. His “D’Alembert’s Dream” (D’Alembert being a contemporary of Diderot) is a marvel. I think it’s there that he speculates about something that sounds a lot like a theory of genes.

    His novel The Nun is a remarkable work, to put it very mildly. It’s an expose of what happens to young women “put away” in convents–but it’s a great deal more as well. Diderot’s sister was a nun. I think he also had a brother who was a priest. He wrote The Nun (La Religieuse) as a kind of prank, or at least began it that way. He wanted to get a friend to return to Paris. The friend was a champion of young women who were put away in convents by their families, so Diderot started the novel as a series of letters from a young woman asking for help. Not the most praiseworthy use of the subject matter, but he redeemed himself by what he eventually make of it. I think it has a one of the most memorable characters in fiction–a mother superior who keeps falling in love with new admissions to her convent. The woman is a predator by today’s standards, but Diderot manages to make us (or at least me) feel for her as a tragic type.

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