Libraries & Culture 38.1 (2003) 79-81
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Bibliographie des oeuvres de Denis Diderot, 1739-1900. Compiled by David Adams. Ferney-Voltaire, France: Centre International d'Etude du XVIIIe Siècle, 2000. Vol. 1, 463 pp.; vol. 2, 480 pp. 280 Euros. ISBN 2-84559-007-5, 2-84559-008-3.
Here at last is the long-awaited bibliography of the writings of Denis Diderot (1713-84), one of the most important figures of the French and European [End Page 79] Enlightenments. Voltaire has been studied from a bibliological-graphical point of view; so has Rousseau (currently being redone by J.-A. McEachern). Diderot has never been attempted in a comprehensive fashion, a gap that has been recognized by generations of scholars. Kudos to Professor Adams for having taken on this task and for carrying through to the beginning of the last century.
These handsome, folio-sized volumes form numbers 6 and 7 of the International Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies' series of publications, bound in characteristically blue covers, a sight that is sure to become more and more familiar to devotees of the eighteenth century as further studies roll off the press or are churned out by the computer.
The first volume is devoted to the prefatory material and collectanea, including detailed descriptions of the various editions of the great Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, one of the monuments of the Enlightenment. The second volume treats the reader to separate works, polished off by three useful sections: a list of works cited, another of the works included in the bibliography (a necessity when we consider the many complexities such a study must address), and, finally, an index of all the book people involved: booksellers, publishers, and printers. (An index of proper names and themes would have been welcomed as well.) To complement the repertory of works included, the author wisely chose to precede the bibliography proper with a chronological list.
A glance at the latter reveals to the uninitiated some of the complexities involved with compiling a Diderot bibliography. The French philosophe died in 1784. He was known during his lifetime to the general public in but a limited fashion, for some of his most important works were published posthumously. Many circulated in manuscript form, but as is nearly always the case with that medium, there were but limited numbers of copies of those works, and they reached only a restricted readership.
Subscribers to Libraries & Culture will find the story of some of these publications fascinating. For example, the world at large was introduced to Le Neveu de Rameau (Rameau's Nephew) through a translation into the German in 1805 by no less than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The first edition in French was not to appear until some years later, in 1821, a retranslation from the German. Shortly thereafter, however, Diderot's original text was included in volume 21 of the Brière edition of the Œuvres in 1823 (dated 1821). Jacques le fataliste (James the Fatalist) also has a curious history. Like Le Neveu de Rameau, it was first diffused in manuscript form in the celebrated Literary Correspondence, a handwritten periodical subscribed to by VIPs of the time (Frederick the Great, the empress Catherine, and so on). A German translation of excerpts appeared in 1792, the episode centered on The Vengeance of Mme de La Pommeraye, quickly reprinted in 1793 and then translated back into the French that year. (This tale within another has been often anthologized.) Jacques was then published in a Dutch translation in 1793, in turn translated from the German. The French had to wait until the 5th Year of the Republic (1796-97, in this case, 1796) to be able to peruse Diderot's wonderful text in full and in the original. And then there is the case of La Religieuse (The Nun). . . It all smacks of mystery and subterfuge as we are led from the ancien régime with its convoluted system of censorship, through the apparent freedom in France (vis-à-vis publication) during the...