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HUMANITIES 429 Laurence L. Bongie. Diderot's 'Femme Savallte' Studies Ott Voltaire and tire Eighteenth Century, volume 166. 235 Critics of Diderot's fiction have amply demonstrated that the author frequently made use of scarcely disguised real situations as a point of departure. Many have gone so far as to claim that he lacked the creative imagination to invent rather than simply recall realistic characters, events, and details. Jacques Proust, in his 1964 edition of four Diderot contes, has stated categorically: 'L'exemple de Mystification, celui de Gardeil et de Mile de La Chaux, sans parler du Neveu de Rameau, de La Religieuse, et de Jacques Ie fataliste, nous permettent d'affinner presque a coup sur que Diderot n /a, ala lettre, rien invente dans aucun de ses contes: il a simplement amalgame des faits, recompose des suites chronologiques, type des personnages.' In his Diderot'5 'Femmesavante: Studies on Voltaire, volume 166, Laurence L. Bongie convincingly challenges the assumption of editors, bibliographers , critics, and literary historians that Mile de la Chaux, heroine of Balzac's favourite Diderot short story Ceci n'est pas un conte, was an authentic historical figure, as the narrator-Diderot would have us believe . This girl ofgood family, whose real name Diderot claims to be using ('Je la nomme de son propre nom'), sacrificed honour and fortune to become the mistress of the unscrupulous Gardei!. (Gardeil really did exist, and Bongie devotes a 60-page appendix to new facts about his life, indicating some curious analogies with that of the fictional Mile de La Chaux.) As Gardeil's research assistant, she learned four foreign languages, read voluminously, and ruined her health transcribing. 'Elle posseda I'anglais au point de rendre en fran~ais les premiers essais de metaphysique de M. Hume.' This translation, revised by Diderot, was published in Holland about the time the Lettre sur les sourds et muets appeared in '75'. Betrayed by her lover, she died twenty years before the composition of the conte in which she figures, that is in '752. These last two dates present unresolved problems, since no known French edition of any of Hume's works appeared before the 1754 translation of his Political Discourses of '752. However, Naigeon, in the first edition of Ceci /1' est pas un conte (volume XII ofthe 1798 (Euvres - the conte had first been circulated in the Correspondance litteraire of April '773), besides certifying that Diderot's recit was 'litteralement vrai: identified the Hume work as his Essais sur l'entendement humain (first published in 1748 as Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding), even tampering with Diderot's text to include this title. Barbier, followed by Querard, speculated that the work was a partial translation, published in Amsterdam in 1766, of the Political Discourses, entitled Essais sur Ie commerce, Ie luxe, l'argent, etc. of which no copies are now known. 430 LETTERS IN CANADA 1977 Finally, Eugene Daire, in his 1847 edition of Hume's essays, baldly asserted that this 1766 Amsterdam edition and a 1767 Paris and Lyon edition with the same title, were both re-editions of an earlier La Chaux translation 'faite en 1752 au 1753: though the 'Reflexions du traducteur' and several footnotes refer to events and publications of the 17605. This major chronological difficulty thus arbitrarily removed, the way was clear for a long, sad litany of 'scholarly misinformation and mischief' which, in Bongie's view, has falsified our judgments of Diderot's creative powers and may continue to do so Ifor centuries to come.' Fortunately, Bongie has long been a specialist on Hume in France. As early as 1952, he showed in his unpublished thesis that no physical trace of any authentic La Chaux translation had ever been found; that, despite Diderot's claim that this La Chaux translation was 'bien accueillie du public: the English original of Hume's Understanding was unfavourably reviewed in Dutch journals; that in the early 1750S Diderot's writings show no trace of any knowledge of Hume; and that Ceci n'est pas un conte might be a conte after all. Bongie's bibliographical work was pursued by T.V. Benn in a neglected article in the 1965 G.T. Clapton...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 429-431
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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