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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.