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The Dark Side of Diderot / Le Diderot des ombres

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Edited By James Hanrahan and Síofra Pierse

This collection of essays investigates the darker aspects of Diderot, writer, art critic, philosopher and encyclopédiste. The chapters focus on the schism between positive images of the Enlightenment and an undercurrent of disorder, transgression and clandestine intellectual and social practices. Diderot’s role in this fissure is critically scrutinised through an analysis of the interface between Enlightenment and its dark side. In his reticence before authority and censorship, in the richness and complexity of his literary and philosophical works, in the emotional conflict of his theatre, or in his innovative aesthetic vision, Diderot consistently evokes the darker side of the Enlightenment.
Cet ouvrage interroge l’aspect plus sombre de Diderot, écrivain, critique d’art, philosophe et encyclopédiste. Les contributeurs traitent du clivage entre d’un côté, les images positives des Lumières et, de l’autre, le désordre, la révolte, la transgression, les pratiques sociales et intellectuelles clandestines qui en constituent son corollaire parfois sous-jacent. Le rôle de Diderot au cœur de ce clivage sera analysé dans le cadre d’une interrogation plus large du couple Ombres/Lumières. Diderot incarne – dans ses réticences devant les autorités et la censure, dans la richesse et la complexité de ses ouvrages littéraires et philosophiques, dans les conflits affectifs de son théâtre, ou encore dans sa vision esthétique innovatrice – une alternative, plus sombre, à la marche des Lumières triomphantes.
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Diderot’s Ghosts

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On 20 December 1765, the Dauphin – Louis XV’s only surviving son and his heir apparent – died of tuberculosis at the age of 36. The duc de La Vauguyon, then tutor to the Dauphin’s children, commissioned Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée to paint a commemorative scene; the painting, which now hangs in the château at Fontainebleau, where its subject died, is entitled Le Dauphin mourant, environné de sa famille (see Figure 1).1 The Dauphin lies in bed, expiring calmly, his head bandaged and the attributes of his learning littering the foreground. Behind him, on the other side of the headboard, stands the allegorical figure of France in deep mourning. The painting celebrates France’s heirs to the throne, as, in the absence of his two daughters, the Dauphin’s sons gather around him, all wearing the ‘cordon bleu’ of the Order of the Holy Spirit: his eldest son, the duc de Berry, who would go on to ascend the throne as Louis XVI on the death of his grandfather in May 1774, kneels at the foot of the bed, gazing up at his dying father; the comte de Provence – the future Louis XVIII – stands just behind him, clasping his hands to his chest; and the young comte d’Artois – the future Charles X – looks to his mother for comfort. And while the Dauphin’s wife, Maria Josepha of Saxony, languishes beside him – already infected, no doubt, by the tuberculosis that would kill her in March 1767 – above him floats the ghost of...

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