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Jacques the Fatalist

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  7,298 ratings  ·  322 reviews
Jacques the Fatalist is a provocative exploration of the problems of human existence, destiny, and free will. In the introduction to this brilliant translation, David Coward explains the philosophical basis of Diderot's fascination with fate and examines the experimental and influential literary techniques that make Jacques the Fatalist a classic of the Enlightenment. ...more
Paperback, Oxford World's Classics, 304 pages
Published September 16th 1999 by Oxford University Press (first published 1785)
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Exclusive Interview with Denis Diderot, Author and Philosopher

Reader: Can you tell us a little about how this book took shape, Mr Diderot?

DD: There's not much to tell. All I know is that one day two figures on horseback appeared on the page before me, and it soon became clear that the one called Jacques (he was definitely a 'Jacques') was the servant of the other.

R: Were Don Quichotte and his servant Sancho Panza an inspiration perhaps?

DD: Who knows what connections there are between what we've
Ahmad Sharabiani
Jacques le Fataliste et son maître = Jacques the Fatalist, Denis Diderot (1713 - 1784)
Jacques the Fatalist and his Master (French: Jacques le fataliste et son maître) is a novel by Denis Diderot, written during the period 1765–1780. The first French edition was published posthumously in 1796, but it was known earlier in Germany, thanks to Goethe's partial translation, which appeared in 1785 and was retranslated into French in 1793, as well as Mylius's complete German version of 1792.
The main sub
"Life is but a series of misunderstandings."

To me, navigating life as a mother and teacher and daughter and sister and spouse and friend and neighbour and commuter and grocery shopper and reader and artist (on extended sabbatical) is a lot about trying to match my own misunderstandings (as far as I am aware of them) with those of my environment. And as that is no easy task, I occasionally experience deep pessimism, which I cure with Thomas Bernhard's prose. Once in recovery mode, I switch to Did
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Dec 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Master: Do you pray?
Jacques: Sometimes
Master: And what do you say?
Jacques: I say: "Thou who mad'st the Great Scroll, whatever Thou art, Thou whose finger hast traced the Writing Up Above, Thou hast known for all time what I needed, Thy will be done. Amen."
Master: Don't you think you would do just as well if you shut up?

It is often too easy for me to forget that high humor and religious cynicism are not new developments within the realm of published fiction. On top of that, as much as we readers
Sidharth Vardhan

So I'm sitting in my place when the door bell rings. I open the door to find a girl with chocolaty curly hair whom I never have seen before, she takes hold of my hand with both her hands imploring me to help her. Suddenly I'm a superhero and she is a damsel in distress, and so I ask her what is wrong? And she sighing and almost sobbing tells me...

"Tells you what?" You ask.

Why do you care? It is not a story, it is supposed to be a review of Jacques the fatalist.

“There is no book more innocent tha
MJ Nicholls
For those exhausted or defeated by Tristram Shandy, here is a precursor to the postmodern novel that packs in more incident, philosophy, bitching and warm humour in its 237 pages than most modern avant-garde writers manage in a whole corpus. Jacques—the titular Fatalist—attempts to recount the tale of his “first loves” while accompanying his Master on a series of oblique misadventures that invariably end up as digressions and more digressions. All postmodern tricks—stories-within-stories, frames ...more
Mar 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Jacques the Fatalist is complex and witty, and contains some fairly interesting ideas about free will and determinism. I enjoyed Jacques' experimentalism and humour, though these are far less impressive given the novel's similarities and proximity to Tristram Shandy. ...more
Paul Bryant
Dec 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
MASTER: Where were you all last night?

HATTER: I don’t have to tell you that.

MASTER: Well, I was concerned. Anything could happen to a little cat out all night in the cold.

HATTER: (Eyeroll.) Pardon me, master, but what I do in my time off is my own concern. I was quite all right, thank you very much.

MASTER: Well, pardon me for being concerned. Anyway, I wanted to ask what you thought about this book.

HATTER: Not that much, to be frank.

MASTER: What? It’s a classic.

HATTER: Oh sure but everything old
Philippe Malzieu
Feb 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Diderot, it is a name less prestigious than Rousseau and Voltaire. We think of the Encyclopedia, some erotic novels well done (the libertins novels of XVIII ° are often boring). His tomb is not even in the Pantheon, contrary in two others.
And then there was Kundera. And Kundera worships him. So I'm obliged to interest to him. Diderot was in jail for his ideas. To escape the censorship, he split up his writings. Paradoxically, I think that Diderot remains to discover.
Thus Jacques the fatalist. Wh
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
It’s not that I know anything much about it first hand either as practitioner or as one who consumes the stuff so my diagnosis and treatment regimen are entirely oblique. But you know it is not so uncommon to hear the compliant about MFA=prose. Like I said, I don’t really know what that means because I a) don’t have an MFA b) probably don’t read people with MFA’s c) read lots(some?) of folks who teach MFA’s d) but don’t find anything particularly MFA-ish about them ; most oddly it’s a complaint ...more
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Perfection. Self-consciously Shandian-spawn, which is one of the best things a book can be, with a wit and intelligence that is still simply staggering. I have read it twice, but for some reason nothing else of his. Will have to rectify this omission asap.
David Lentz
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It may be your destiny to read and adore the pithy wit of Diderot. At a time when the novel was new as a genre as a contemporary of Sterne and Richardson, Diderot confronts the religion and philosophy of his day entrenched in the idea that man's fate was written on a scroll on high and that man only acted out a bit part devoid of real choice in his slavery to destiny. Pre-destination did not sit well with Diderot and Jacques is the novelist in this "dog's breakfast" he has served up railing agin ...more
110813: well, yes, it is sort of a one joke story- but the joke is philosophical, comic, endlessly applied, and he does tell it very well. this book can seem maybe too discursive, too talky, but then that is the point. i read the intro after the text, i try to come to this knowing as little as possible about Diderot, to better appreciate the novelty, the comedy. i have read Cervantes, so i guess i should now read Sterne... maybe also The Nun...
Hilarious. I didn’t know how funny, when I bought this in Quebec City, Libraire Generale Française, over two decades ago. Nor did I know how metaliterary, like its contemporary, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, but here, Diderot notes all the fictional clichés he refuses to write, telling only the truth. Ignorant of its humor, I chose this book because of a couple passages in the middle: one, "Never pay in advance, unless you want to be badly served"(112); the other directly opposed my Puritan upbringi ...more
Jun 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: francais, french-lit
Alors! What can one say about this book? Another buddy story like Don Quijote and Sancho Panza? As the title says, it involves Jacques and his master and the entire story is their conversation on the road. The big tease is the master just wants to hear Jacques’ “tales of his love conquests” but many stories must come first.

In Don Quijote, I thought these stories within stories was rather unique. It took a certain skill for the reader to remember where one story ended as the next began, so many p
Monty Milne
Aug 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
As soon as I read the opening of this book I knew I was in a completely different world to all the other 18th century novels I've read recently:

"How had they met? By chance, like everybody else.
What were their names? What's it to you?
Where were they coming from? From the nearest place.
Where were they going? Does anyone really know where they're going?"

After 900+ pages of convoluted prose from Fanny Burney, this was like a bracing dive into the Loire. But it would not be true to say that it stan
Lee Foust
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Ah, Apuleius, Boccaccio, Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, and here Diderot: the great erotic jokers and wizards of meta-narrative tricks. Diderot, more than the others, I think, shows just how much philosophy there is in the art of narrating fictions (that is, in telling dirty stories). He brings out some fascinating sub themes in the mottle tales told by Jacques, his master, and their bawdy landlady in this rambling, interrupted, and oft self-reflective anti-novel: male rivalry and the love/hate ho ...more
Mar 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Buck by: Kasia
I'm too distracted to read this in French, since Sophocles is still giving me fits and, well, I do have a life. Besides, the translation I'm reading is wonderfully brisk and colloquial. How can you not love a novel from 1780 that begins with this Beckettian up-yours?:

How had they met? By chance, like everybody else. What were there names? What's it to you? Where were they coming from? From the nearest place. Where were they going? Does anyone really know where they're going?

I don't want to jinx
Oct 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember why I added this book to my To Read list, it's been there for so many years and since I couldn't find it on the local book stores, I stopped looking and forgot about it for a couple of years. I recently found the book in Amazon and decided to buy it.

To be honest, it wasn't what I was expecting, but I blame myself for that. I let too much time go by and I created my own idea of the story, I probably forgot if I ever read a review and didn't read any other summary or the back cove
Oct 01, 2010 rated it liked it
When I mentioned to some French friends that I was reading Jacques le Fataliste et Son Maitre, written in the l770's. I thought they might show some enthusiasm for this French "classic", or at least a "curiosity". Instead, they rolled their eyes and asked why? Good question. I read somewhere that it was a French version of Lawrence Sterne's TRISTAM SHANDY, as well as a riff on Don Quixote, so I became curious and read it. It's worth the read and is often a very funny book. the humor even emerges ...more
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Diderot, my end-notes tell me, was strongly influenced by Laurence Sterne in setting out to write "Jacques The Fatalist". Having already written a story called "Ceci n’est pas un Conte", his lack of interest in novelistic verisimilitude is clear and the author's voice is an additional character, constantly interrupting the characters on the page (who are already constantly interrupting one another) to tell us that none of this is true and he can change everything at any time, so don't get too at ...more
yellow tree
Feb 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cogitating people
Recommended to yellow tree by: my mother
Shelves: prose
this book really has something. its style is as innovative now as it was in diderot's time, and the ideas being articulated, then ground-breaking, are still worth some thoughts. for a work of this age, it's surprisingly easy to be read, and the difficulties arise from elsewhere then expected. the storyline is permanently interrupted by stories, dialogues, and the narrator, suddenly starting to talk to the reader about the trustworthiness of the former reports, so sometimes it's hard to reorienta ...more
Nov 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm making my way through the classics of 18th century lit via the "1001 Books to Read Before you Die" (I know, I know, I'm embarrassed.) Anyway- it's been a mixed back. I've enjoyed books like Tom Jones, suffered through books like Pamela & puzzled through but ultimately enjoyed books like Tristram Shandy.

The point of the preamble is that Jacques the Fatalist is the first of these 18th century books that I've really, really loved. I agree with all of the other reviewers- this is a true five st
Jun 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: ero
I loved Jacques and his Master. A frustrating read, but much easier than Don Quixote or Tristram Shandy. Not as good, either. But still great. Maybe I should give it five stars. I gave Harry Potter four or five stars, and it's much better than Harry Potter. I guess it was written up high that I'd only give it four stars. ...more
andreea.  (paperrcuts)
this was a cheaper (copycat) version of Tristram Shandy, but at least it was shorter than Sterne's. ...more
Alies Vaartjes
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jacques, let's now continue with the story of your loves ...more
Feb 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Much is made of Diderot's rather bald appropriations from Sterne's "Tristram Shandy." Diderot made no secret of it-- his book is, in many ways, the Dionysian face of that book (! if that can be said with a straight face). Just look at Sterne's material-- war, and the wounds that result; Diderot, on the other hand, skips lightly past the battlefield to the real seat of Uncle Toby's wound, the heart, and its battles.* As such, Jacques put me more in mind of "The Decameron," or even "Don Quixote" ( ...more
Oct 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
Mildly amusing, but mostly exasperating. I know that the point here was to be different from other novels and to bite the proverbial thumb at your traditional narrative, and all that was interesting to a point. I just didn't get that excited about any of the characters or the stories they were trying to tell. Between the interruptions built into the novel and the actual interruptions of life, I could never remember what was going on or who anyone was.
One thing that interested me that was mention
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015, favorites
Denis Diderot, my dear, doesn't write..he talks! Is it even a novel? I haven't a clue. One thing I know is this is, by far, the most avant-garde stuff I have ever read and to think that it was written by a man who was born over 300 years ago! Man, that's really something! Even the language and tone don't allow it to be older than 1970s. For me, this book now stands at the pinnacle of timelessness. This book will serve as a reference against which timelessness of all literary narratives(I would r ...more
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book nine years ago , slowly and in French. This time, I read it in an English translation and it seemed longer. Not interminably longer, just longer, which leads me to believe in my first reading I missed a lot of details. Or possibly I read an abridged version. All of which might seem like digressions, but that’s in the spirit of the book.

As Jacques points out, “none of us knows what we want or what we are doing, and we follow our whims which we call reason, or our reason which i
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Denis Diderot was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer. He was a prominent persona during the Enlightenment and is best known for serving as co-founder and chief editor of and contributor to the Encyclopédie.

Diderot also contributed to literature, notably with Jacques le fataliste et son maître (Jacques the Fatalist and his Master), which emulated Laurence Sterne in challenging conventions

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