Denis Diderot - Life and Death

Life and Death

Denis Diderot was born in Langres, Champagne, and began his formal education at the jesuitic Collège jésuite in Langres.

His parents were Didier Diderot (1675–1759) a cutler, maître coutelier and his wife Angélique Vigneron (1677–1748). Three of five siblings survived to adulthood, Denise Diderot (1715–1797) and their youngest brother Pierre-Didier Diderot (1722–1787), and finally their sister Angélique Diderot (1720–1749).

In 1732 he earned a master of arts degree in philosophy. Then he entered the Collège d'Harcourt in Paris. He abandoned the idea of entering the clergy and decided instead to study law. His study of law was short-lived however and in 1734 Diderot decided to become a writer. Because of his refusal to enter one of the learned professions, he was disowned by his father, and for the next ten years he lived a bohemian existence.

In 1742 he befriended Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Then in 1743 he further alienated his father by marrying Antoinette Champion (1710–1796), a devout Roman Catholic. The match was considered inappropriate due to Champion's low social status, poor education, fatherless status and lack of a dowry. She was about three years older than Diderot. The marriage, in October 1743 produced one surviving child, a girl. Her name was Angélique, after both Diderot's dead mother and sister. The death of his sister, a nun, from overwork in the convent may have affected Diderot's opinion of religion. She is assumed to have been the inspiration for his novel about a nun, La Religieuse, in which he depicts a woman who is forced to enter a monastery where she suffers at the hands of the other nuns in the community.

Diderot had affairs with the writer Madeleine de Puisieux and with Sophie Volland (1716-1784). His letters to Sophie Volland contain some of the most vivid of all the insights that we have of the daily life of the philosophic circle of Paris during this time period.

Though his work was broad and rigorous, it did not bring Diderot riches. He secured none of the posts that were occasionally given to needy men of letters; he could not even obtain the bare official recognition of merit which was implied by being chosen a member of the Académie française. When the time came for him to provide a dowry for his daughter, he saw no alternative than to sell his library. When Catherine II of Russia heard of his financial troubles she commissioned an agent in Paris to buy the library. She then requested that the philosopher retain the books in Paris until she required them, and act as her librarian with a yearly salary. From 1773 for two years Diderot spent some months at the empress's court in Saint Petersburg.

Diderot died of gastrointestinal problems in Paris on July 31, 1784, and was buried in the city's Église Saint-Roch. His heirs sent his vast library to Catherine II, who had it deposited at the National Library of Russia.

Read more about this topic:  Denis Diderot

Famous quotes containing the words life and/or death:

    Making the best of things is ... a damn poor way of dealing with them.... My whole life has been a series of escapes from that quicksand [ellipses in source].
    Rose Wilder Lane (1886–1968)

    The call of death is a call of love. Death can be sweet if we answer it in the affirmative, if we accept it as one of the great eternal forms of life and transformation.
    Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)