Jacques the Fatalist and His Master Analysis

Denis Diderot

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*France. Interrupted tales bounce the main characters and readers from place to place throughout France. Settings include towns, inns, farms, roadways, houses, and even lofts and doorsteps. The constantly shifting scenes are so disorienting that even the narrator is not always sure where the characters are.

Like his contemporary French writer Voltaire, Diderot often viewed sexual relationships between men and women as good sources of humor and satire. The novel includes several places which by their nature create humorous situations based on these relationships. The tale of the baker’s wife and her lover, for example, is one in which place is essential to the action. When the local authorities come to arrest the baker, the wife’s lover, not the baker, is with her. Later the lover leaves and is arrested in spite of his protests because “whoever sleeps with the baker’s wife is the baker.”

Jacques the Fatalist and His Master Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

“Diderot’s Great Scroll: Narrative Art in Jacques le Fataliste,” in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. LXXXVIII (1975).

Fellows, Otis. Diderot. Boston: Twayne, 1989. In this updated edition, the author was able to incorporate the latest research on Diderot in general and on Jacques the Fatalist and His Master, which is discussed in the penultimate chapter, in particular.

Furbank, P. N. Diderot: A Critical Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. Fine biographical study, which includes critical analyses of Diderot’s writings. The study of Jacques the Fatalist and His Master in chapter 24 offers astute treatment of the philosophical issues and of the theories about fiction.

Loy, J. Robert. Diderot’s Determined Fatalist. New York: King’s Crown Press, 1950. The pioneering study that first opened up Diderot’s experimental novel to intelligent critical evaluation of its qualities as a work of art and as a profound philosophical discussion of the nature of human existence.

Vartanian, Aram. “Jacques the Fatalist: A Journey into the Ramifications of a Dilemma.” In Essays on Diderot and the Enlightenment in Honor of Otis Fellows. Geneva: E. Droz, 1974. Exceptionally clear and elegant essay on Diderot’s uncomfortable awareness of the contradictions in fatalism and determinism as philosophical systems.

Wilson, Arthur M. Diderot. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972. A thorough and scholarly critical study of Diderot’s life and works. Chapter 46 has a fine discussion of Jacques the Fatalist and His Master as an exposition of Diderot’s views on determinism and humanism.