1.3 When the sexual nature is developing

Monday, 3. August 2009

Soon after this miscalculation the now fifteen year-old Diderot, influenced by his teachers in the Jesuit collège where he was becoming markedly successful, began to think for a short while of becoming a Jesuit himself. You could even say that he underwent the stress of a devout religious experience because he fasted, wore a hair shirt and slept on straw.

The following passage from his novel “James the Fatalist”, written in 1773, may therefore be an autobiographical flashback in nature:

There comes a moment during which almost every girl or boy falls into melancholy; they are tormented by a vague inquietude which rests on everything and finds nothing to calm it. They seek solitude; they weep; the silence to be found in cloisters attracts them; the image of peace that seems to reign in religious houses seduces them. They mistake the first manifestations of a developing sexual nature for the voice of God calling them to Himself; and it is precisely when nature is inciting them that they embrace a fashion of life contrary to nature’s wish.’

Diderot’s desire of becoming a Jesuit didn’t work out and lasted only for four or five months. Nevertheless it was this that led to his departure from Langres, the town where he was born, to Paris, for the rest of his schooling. Diderot intended to leave sneakily in company with a Jesuit, but his father, warned by one of his cousins, waited up on the appointed night and made an unexpected appearance just as Diderot was creeping down the stairs. To the question as to where he was going to in the middle of the night, Diderot replied: ‘To Paris, where I am bound to enter the Jesuits.’

Now guess what his father replied… will be continued tomorrow

The original French title : Jacques le fataliste et son maître

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