After the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Milan Kundera became a proscribed author, unable to publish and to earn a living from his work. In an attempt to help him, a theater director proposed that he write a stage adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, which would be produced under cover of the director’s name.
Repelled after rereading the book by its “overblown gestures, murky depths, and aggressive sentimentality,” Kundera turned instead to an old love, Denis Diderot’s playful novel, Jacques le Fataliste. As Kundera puts it in his introduction, the great philosopher of the Enlightenment is above all the most original of novelists, whose humor, rationalism, and extraordinary freedom of form represent a path left largely unexplored by world literature.
Jacques and His Master is Milan Kundera’s brilliant and entertaining variation (as opposed to adaptation) on Diderot’s text. As such, it is thoroughly a work of Kundera’s own, with all the qualities readers have come to admire in this great writer’s fiction.
Jacques and His Master has been successfully staged in Yugoslavia, Greece, West Germany, and Switzerland, and had a long run in Paris, where it won the steemed Prix Georges Pitoeff. The play’s first major American production was at the American Repertory Theatre, under direction of Susan Sontag.