Diderot, Denis

Diderot, Denis

Diderot, Denis, 1713-84, French encyclopedist, philosopher of materialism, and critic of art and literature, b. Langres. He was also a novelist, satirist, and dramatist. Diderot was enormously influential in shaping the rationalistic spirit of the 18th cent. Educated by the Jesuits, he rejected a career in law to pursue his own studies and writing. In 1745 he became editor of the Encyclopédie, enlisting nearly all the important French writers of the Enlightenment; they produced the most remarkable compendium up to that time. The best known of his plays is Le Père de famille (1758), which became the prototype of the "bourgeois drama."

Other highly distinctive works by Diderot include La Religieuse [the nun] (1796), a psychological novel; Jacques le fataliste (1796), a rambling novel in the manner of Sterne; and Le Neveu de Rameau [Rameau's nephew], a brilliant satire in dialogue. His philosophical writings include his Pensées philosophiques (1746) and Lettre sur les aveugles [letter on the blind] (1749), which contains the most complete statement of his materialism. Through his Salons, articles published in newspapers from 1759, he pioneered in modern art criticism. Diderot's vast correspondence forms a brilliant picture of the period. His later years, until he came to enjoy the patronage of Catherine II of Russia, were filled with financial difficulties. His influence was great, both on his immediate successors, Holbach and Helvétius, and on the writers and thinkers of France, Germany, and England.

See his Selected Writings, tr. by D. Coltman and ed. by L. G. Crocker (1966); Diderot on Art, ed. and tr. by J. Goodman (Vol. I, 1995); biographies by A. M. Wilson (1972) and P. N. Furbank (1992); studies by G. Bremner (1983) and J. H. Mason (1984).

Denis Diderot, oil painting by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767; in the Louvre, Paris.

(born Oct. 5, 1713, Langres, France—died July 31, 1784, Paris) French man of letters and philosopher. Educated by Jesuits, Diderot later received degrees from the University of Paris. From 1745 to 1772 he served as chief editor of the 35-volume Encyclopédie, a principal work of the Enlightenment. He composed such influential works as Letter on the Deaf and Dumb (1751), which studies the function of language, and Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature (1754), acclaimed as the method of philosophical inquiry of the 18th century. The first great art critic, he was especially admired posthumously for his Essay on Painting (written 1765). His novels include The Nun (written 1760) and Rameau's Nephew (finished 1774); he also wrote plays and theoretical works on drama. Seealso Jean Le Rond d'Alembert.

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Reuilly - Diderot is a station of the Paris Métro. It is named after Denis Diderot and Reuilly, a former hamlet now integrated into the XIIe arrondissement.

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