Places: Rameau’s Nephew

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: German translation, 1805; French original, 1821 as Le Neveu de Rameau (English translation, 1897)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical

Time of work: 1761

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Rameau’s NephewFrance’s capital city was the center of all the nation’s social and intellectual activity in the eighteenth century. Paris was also where Diderot spent the majority of his working life. Throughout his novel, Diderot mentions familiar places in Paris–places that he and his friends and acquaintances frequented. Diderot wrote Rameau’s Nephew not for publication, but rather for his own use and to share with a few close friends. For this reason, the Paris in which his book is set is the Paris that he experienced and shared with his friends. For example, he provides very realistic details about the Palais Royal gardens in which he often walked and relaxed on evenings when the weather was fine. He even mentions the banc d’Argenson, an actual bench located in the Allée d’Argenson where he often sat.

*Café de la Régence

*Café de la Régence (kah-fay deh lah ray-gahns). Café located in the Palais Royal Square that Diderot frequented when the weather was bad. This café was renowned for the men who played chess there, and Diderot was often among the spectators. The café serves as a catalyst to the novel’s action, for it is at the café that Diderot encounters Rameau’s nephew, Jean-François Rameau, the “He” of the dialogue (to Diderot’s “Myself”).

Parisian homes

Parisian homes. Rameau’s nephew finds sustenance in the fine homes of the nobility and upper bourgeoisie, in which he gives music lessons to family daughters and earns himself places at their tables through fawning. His parasitic nature is established by the places he frequents. His own home is a rented loft, which reinforces his social status and parasitic nature. Because his rent is almost always unpaid, he must return to his home without being seen or find other accommodations. On occasions when he cannot enter his loft and the weather is fair, he spends the nights on the Champs Élysées, a broad avenue.

On other occasions, Rameau’s nephew sleeps in stables of the nobility, such as that of the Hôtel de Soubise. Discussion of these stables emphasizes his adaptability, lack of social position, and general willingness to profit from whatever and whomever he can.


*Opera. Center of social life in eighteenth century Paris. It is appropriate that Rameau’s nephew terminates his conversation with Diderot in order to get to the opera, as he is a musician by profession. Moreover, the opera is an excellent place for him to socialize with the nobility and possibly get a supper invitation.

BibliographyCrocker, Lester. The Embattled Philosopher: A Biography of Denis Diderot. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1954. A lively, very readable, and solid study. Evokes the antithetical tendencies in Diderot’s personality, treats with balance Diderot’s famous feud with Rousseau, and includes a lengthy, perceptive analysis of Rameau’s Nephew.Doolittle, James. Rameau’s Nephew: A Study of Diderot’s “Second Satire.” Geneva: Librairie E. Droz, 1960. A reflective study of Diderot’s most famous creative work. Insightful. Relies heavily on the text itself–and is free of the critical jargon and interpretive excesses of some more recent works.Fellows, Otis. Diderot. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A sympathetic, clear introduction to Diderot’s life and work. Relying heavily on earlier scholarship, Fellows reports varied interpretive views of Diderot’s major writings.Furbank, Philip Nicholas. Diderot: A Critical Biography. London: Martin Secker & Warburg, 1992. Emphasizes Diderot’s literary works, particularly his fiction, and cites lengthy passages from his correspondence to clarify the issues that absorbed the philosopher. Furbank’s interpretations make use of contemporary literary theory.Wilson, Arthur. Diderot. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972. A comprehensive study of Diderot, richly detailed and absorbing. Treats the man and his social world with assurance and subtle judgment. Describes Diderot’s courage in going ahead with his Encyclopédie (1751-1772) even after others deserted the project.
Categories: Places