Tuesday, January 24, 2012

34. Le Neveu de Rameau

Le Neveu de Rameau
Rameau's Nephew
Denis Diderot
Most likely written in the 1760s but first published in 1805

I actually just read this novel in the last two hours.  The reason that this post took so long to come up is because of my boundless ego.  You can get this book free on eBooks.  The catch is that it is only available in French (unless you want to pay like $85).  I had one of those "inspired" moments and vowed to challenge myself by trying to comprehend the novel anyway.  Consequently, I did not pick up the novel until today which is when I decided to Google it.  'Lo and behold, the full text is available online anyway.  Isn't that the darnedest thing?

Now that I have dazzled you with my fascinating history, we can get on with the review.  You are still reading right now which is, at least, a good sign.  This novel is about 75 pages (maybe less) and consists of a dialogue between a traditional philosopher and a cynic.  The traditional philosopher believes that virtues outweigh pleasures and that wealth is not that important.  Rameau's (a famous composer) nephew trains his son to value money above all else and never learn music because it does not lead to money.  Diderot, however, makes the nephew seem like the wise one and never makes him seem like a hypocrite.  This was, of course, very controversial for the time because it criticized Parisian nobility.

I have really loved the Enlightenment authors so far and this was no exception.  The entire novel reminded me of the conversations they had in movies like Diner or Reservoir Dogs (although a lot less dirty).  Sometimes, I get in a really philosophical mood and just feeling like musing about everything.  Of course, it is hard to do that without sounding really pretentious.  Let those feelings out with this novel; it is free online!

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Diderot did not publish this in his life time because he had already had some brushes with the law and wanted to avoid anymore jail time.

Click here for complete text.

This is a great video I found on YouTube that will help you get to know P.Didi as well as I do (that is a private joke between me and Diderot).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

33. La Nouvelle Heloise

La Nouvelle Heloise
Julie, or the New Heloise
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
This novel really was a roller coaster ride for me.  I went from hating it, to liking it, to disliking it, and finally to loving it.  I read Moby Dick in between this and my last book and that was not as much as an experience for me, although Moby Dick is infinitely better known.

Let's start with why I initially hated it.  The book started out with the most insecure, insufferable whiners I had ever had the misfortune of reading about.  Saint-Preux was in love with Julie, who he had tutored all through her childhood.  I think it would have been interesting to read about how they fell in love but the novel picks up after they are already sickeningly committed to each other.  Their letters, though filled with romantic language, were actually quite vicious to each other, and I predicted a murder-suicide.  In one chapter, Julie sent Saint-Preux a portrait of herself. She wanted it to be really accurate so he wouldn't fall in love with "charms she did not possess" because then he would be unfaithful.  Maybe she had good reason for being insecure, because Saint Preux later ended up sleeping with a prostitute in a whorehouse.  He says it wasn't his fault because he was drunk and had mistaken water for white wine.  I am sorry, but if you get those two liquids mixed up, you are already pretty wasted.  But I digress...

Anyway, about half way through the novel, the whining stops and a really bittersweet resolution appears.  Of course, to tell you why I like it so much would ruin it for you, so I must stop myself.  After that, Rousseau gets too preoccupied with secondary characters (the cause of my disliking phase).  At the end, though, Rousseau's writing is absolutely phenomenal which is reason enough to read it.  In fact, I had to keep reading out loud his last end note to random people because it was so sweet and thought-provoking.  So check it out, but don't buy a copy off Amazon because their versions suck.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

This novel was so successful that publishers could not print copies fast enough and ended up having to rent out copies, sometimes by the hour.  People loved the book so much that they flooded Rousseau with letters, making him the first "celebrity author".

Voltaire called the novel's success "the infamy of the century".  Jealous, much?