Denis Diderot’s 300th birthday is coming up in October. There will be plenty of celebrating of this multi-tasking genius, including a plan to install his ashes in the crypt of the Pantheon. There he will join the two other greatest figures of the Enlightenment, his collaborators Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Diderot is known chiefly for his vast and profoundly influential Encyclopédie, but he was also a very exciting novelist whose works are as fresh now as they were when they flowed from his quill in the 18th century. To wit, the other day a big movie based on his novel La Religieuse opened in twenty-two cinemas in Paris and its suburbs -- to excellent reviews.
Here’s my take on this extraordinary resident Saint Germain-des-Prés from my book Writers in Paris, Literary Lives in the City of Light:
Jean Gautherin’s vigorous bronze of Denis Diderot is one of the finest statues of a writer in Paris. It stands at No. 245 boulevard Saint-Germain, a few steps from the house where Diderot lived from 1754 to 1784, later replaced by the s building. One of the big three of the Enlightenment, Diderot shared with Voltaire and Rousseau a passion for philosophy, literature, morality, and the betterment of the human race, but only he delved deeply into science and technology, making him the consummate “universal man.”Diderot is chiefly remembered for L’Encyclopédie.This project began as a job translating Ephraim Chambers’s pioneering English Cyclopaedia,but instead, Diderot and mathematician Jean Le Rond d’Alembert developed a plan for a vast new work. With seventeen volumes of text, eleven volumes of plates, and sixty thousand articles, it would become the very embodiment of the Age of Reason.
The first volume came out in 1751, and nine more followed until 1759, when the Conseil du Roi abruptly halted the project on the grounds that Diderot and his contributors (Voltaire and Rousseau among them) were lacing the books with challenges to church and state with ideas such as this:
“The good of the people must be the great purpose of government. By the laws of nature and reason, the governors are entrusted with power to that end. And the greatest good of the people is liberty. It is to the state whathealth is to the individual.”
After Diderot threatened to publish the Encyclopédie in Holland—no idle threat, because the project was one of Paris’s leading employers—the government allowed publication to resume.He agreed to let the censors review everything,but invented all sorts of cunning ruses to get around them.
Diderot’s works of fiction, brilliant,often droll, and remarkably modern in tone, were written for his own enjoyment and that of select friends. Almost all were too scandalous to be published at the time he wrote them. They include La Religieuse (The Nun), Jacques le fataliste et son maître (Jacques the Fatalist and his Master),and Le Neveu de Rameau(Rameau’s Nephew). Only one novel, Les Bijoux indiscrets (The Indiscreet Jewels), published in Holland, came out during his lifetime. In it, women talk “from the most sincere part of them and the best instructed in the things you desire to know . . . from their jewels.” It was a version of The Vagina Monologues two and a half centuries before its time.
David Burke is launching his spring and summer program of Writers in Paris Walking Tours in April. Take a look at his web site for them:
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
Tours cost 195 euros for up to 3 people, and 65 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am happy to announce the sale of a new set of prints of my Eye Prefer Paris Photos. I am offering 20 of my most popular and iconic images for sale including my doors, architectural details, statues, and monuments. They will make great gifts for all your Francophile friends, relatives, and colleagues but don't forget to buy some for yourself.
Click here to see photos and for full details including sizes, prices, and shipping. Here is a sample of some of the photos.