The Novel pp 86-103 | Cite as

The Dialogic Pact

Denis Diderot: Jacques the Fatalist and His Master


As the Age of Reason drew to a close in the turbulence of the French Revolution, the publication of Jacques the Fatalist and His Master in 1796, almost a decade after the great Encyclopedician Denis Diderot had finished writing it, represented a kind of stock-taking of a century’s avid novel-writing in England and France. At the same time, and this is perhaps Diderot’s most remarkable achievement, his novel is a radical subversion of a genre that in a relatively short period had taken Europe by storm. Looking back at it from the end of our own century Jacques the Fatalist demonstrates the consciousness, and most of the processes, we have come to associate with Postmodernism. Indeed, together with Sterne’s Tristram Shandy it defines an age, and a concept of the novel, without which Postmodernist fiction — or at least those versions of it that are informed by the notions of self-consciousness, metanarrative and intertextuality — may not have taken the form it has.


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© André Brink 1998

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