I, a counterpart of Diderot (dee-deh-ROH), the author, who displays not only much of the author’s biographical profile but also his progressive Enlightenment philosophy. The daily afternoon strolls in Paris’ Palais-Royal gardens that this character takes in order to be alone with his thoughts lead him to encounter, in the Café de la Régence, the eccentric figure of Rameau’s nephew, with whom he previously has had only a passing acquaintance. Their subsequent wide-ranging conversation, recorded in dialogue form by I, who occasionally steps out of character to frame a scene descriptively, is the subject of the novella. I generally acts as the levelheaded interlocutor to the younger, more impetuous nephew of Rameau, pleading for the value of reason, goodness, and virtue even as the latter argues insistently for short-term pleasures. I never ceases to marvel at the mass of contradictions present in this paradoxical figure and is particularly puzzled as to how the seemingly complete lack of morality of Rameau’s nephew could be coupled with his obviously well-developed aesthetic sensibility. I mostly contents himself with allowing Rameau’s nephew to hold forth on an array of topics, including why geniuses are rarely good persons; whether there are substantial differences between one’s public and private selves; what constitutes a proper education for girls; whether there are higher ideals in life than mere hedonism; which musical tradition, French or Italian, provides greater verisimilitude of emotional expression;...
(The entire section is 644 words.)