The Albertine Book Club

A monthly journey through French literature and ideas with Antonin Baudry. Our second selection is Denis Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist and His Master (Jacques le fataliste et son maître).

A striking precursor to Modernist and Post-Modernist literary techniques written in the late 1700s by Denis Diderot — the man who crafted the world’s first encyclopedia — Jacques the Fatalist and His Master is a story about two men roaming the French countryside on horseback, whiling away the time by telling stories. Most of the stories are the mischievous Jacques’s, and though they tend to focus on his various romantic adventures, they are frequently interrupted by philosophical inquiries about all manner of subjects, including art, politics, and the very meaning of life. The stories — often bawdy and often involving supposedly respectable community figures — become a lens through which we come to understand the servant’s odd sense of fatalism, a worldview he understands as a great scroll that unrolls little by little. Jacques’s astute and bold spirit leads him to transcend his status and progressively become the master of his master.

Further interrupting the narrative is the author himself, who interjects to comment on the stories, the characters he’s created, and the path he has laid out for them. This technique, along with Jacques’s unerring fatalism, makes this book an extraordinary, entertaining, and profound journey.

Jacques le fataliste is the most fascinating picaresque novel that came out of the Enlightenment — it is one of the books that has inspired me most over the past 25 years.”

Antonin Baudry

French and English versions of the book are available for purchase at Albertine.

The discussion will be led in English and French. Speakers of either language are encouraged to attend. Translation of discourse are readily available. The Albertine Book Club is free and open to the public. No RSVP necessary.

Antonin Baudry is Ambassador for French Culture and President of the Institut Français in Paris where he creates initiatives to promote French culture across the globe.

As Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States from September 2010 to January 2015, he oversaw French-American cultural relations and supported French universities, arts, literature and education to cultural and academic institutions across the United States. He created a renewed connection between France and the United States with a team spread between New York, Washington and eight other American cities. In his role as Cultural Counselor, Baudry also served as the Permanent Representative of the French Universities in the United States and fostered French-American higher education exchanges, creating opportunities for researchers, scholars and students to collaborate.

Baudry is the Founder of Albertine Books in French and English, which opened its doors in New York in September 2014.  Offering over 14,000 titles in French and in translation, the combination reading room, bookshop, and venue is a project of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and provides a singular hub for French-American intellectual exchange in New York.  Albertine serves as a new forum for debates and discussions on subjects from politics, to economics, to art, literature, and the sciences that explore culture through a modern and global lens.

Under the penname of Abel Lanzac, Baudry received the prize for best album at the Angoulême International Comics Festival with designer Christophe Blain in February 2013 for the second installment of their graphic novel series Quai d’Orsay. Baudry and Blain also received the RTL graphic novel Grand Prize in December 2010 for the first installment of the same series.

The film adaptation of Quai d’Orsay premiered in November 2013 and won the special jury prize for best screenplay at the Saint-Sébastien Film Festival in September 2013 and the Prix Jacques Prévert screenplay prize in February 2014 for best adaptation. The film was also chosen as a special presentation at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and was nominated for a 2014 César award for best adaptation.

Baudry is an alumnus of both the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Ulm) and the Ecole Polytechnique.