Denis Diderot (1713-1784) was among the greatest writers of the Enlightenment, and in Jacques the Fatalist he brilliantly challenged the artificialities of conventional French fiction of his age. Riding through France with his master, the servant Jacques appears to act as though he is truly free in a world of dizzying variety and unpredictability. Characters emerge and disappear as the pair travel across the country, and tales begin and are submerged by greater stories, to reveal a panoramic view of eighteenth-century society. But while Jacques seems to choose his own path, he remains convinced of one philosophical belief: that every decision he makes, however whimsical, is wholly predetermined. Playful, picaresque and comic, Diderot's novelis a compelling exploration of Enlightment philosophy. Brilliantly original in style, it is one of the greatest precursors to post-modern literature.
Denis Diderot was born at Langres in eastern France in 1713. After graduating in Paris in 1732, he was nominally a law student for ten years, but was actually leading a precarious bohemian but studious existence. In the early 1740s he met three contemporaries who were of great significance to him and to the age: a'Alembert, Condillac and Rousseau, who assisted Diderot in the compilation of the Encyclopedie, which he worked on until its completion in 1773. Interested in the mind-body dichotomy, his work was a bold mixture of science and philosophy. He died in 1784. Translated by Michael Henry with an introduction and notes by Martin Hall