Enlightenment and the Shadows of Chance
|Author||: Thomas M. Kavanagh|
|Total Pages||: 296|
|Rating||: 4/5 (07 Downloads)|
Book excerpt: While Montesquieu was praising indifference to financial gain, Louis XV regularly presided over dizzying gambling games at Versailles. While Descartes was advancing a strategy for escaping from chance by appealing to the protocols of certainty, clandestine gambling operations in Paris numbered in the hundreds. Despite efforts by the major figures of the French Enlightenment to suppress the period's fascination with chance, high-stakes gambling was an integral part of the social rituals of the most influential groups within the ancien regime. In Enlightenment and the Shadows of Chance, Thomas Kavanagh explores this important paradox to shed light on the genesis, development, and function of the eighteenth-century French novel. First considering the roles of chance and gambling in the epistemological, social, and economic histories of the period, Kavanagh shows that doctrines of chance played a denied yet operative role in important aspects of what the French Enlightenment proclaimed itself to be. He then looks at representations of chance in the novels of Prechac, Prevost, Voltaire, Denon, Crebillon, and Diderot, and shows how they tell two stories: that of a deterministic and ordered universe, and that of a world of fortuitous events determined only by chance. It was the tension and interplay between these two poles, Kavanagh argues, that contributed in an important way to the development of the Enlightenment's ideal of the rational man.