The Philosopher’s Kiss is a well researched story that takes place around the the mid-1700s. In France and other countries where minds are struggling to free themselves from the shadows of the Middle ages, young Sophie Volland is forced by a local priest to witness a most horrifying spectacle.
Sophie’s mother has been condemned to death. Why? Because Sophie was so upset at the thought of receiving Holy Communion for the first time that her mother gave her a dark liquid to swallow to calm her anxiety, particularly her upset stomach. It didn’t work. When the priest placed the small wafer on Sophie’s tongue, she vomited. Convicted of giving Sophie a witchlike potion, her mother is first hanged and then burned above a huge bonfire before a jeering, Christian crowd.
After such a horrifying experience, Sophie tries to make some sense out of life. She believes in God, but has difficulty understanding and accepting the barbarity of her time, particularly when it seems determined by sacred dogma. Although her mother died in infamy, she had given her daughter two precious skills: reading and writing.
Leaving her small town to work in Paris, Sophie meets the philosopher Diderot while waitressing at the Café Procope. In this establishment, prominent thinkers, mathematicians, scientists, and writers exchange their thoughts. Women are supposed to be uneducated. Sophie is not. She hears the men talking. She knows the thoughts of the time. Men speak somewhat secretly about using reason to toss off the enormous enslavement of a church-coupled-monarchy.
Sophie and Diderot fall in love. At first, at a distance. When walking alone in the huge foggy city, Sophie meets and shares a tender kiss with this Diderot. Their deep love can never show because both have spouses.
In The Philosopher’s Kiss, Diderot finds a printer willing to publish what would become the greatest printed work of the age—an Encyclopedia of all human knowledge. He receives the cooperation of dozens of knowledgeable men who will write the latest scientific, political, theological, and philosophical entries in his huge undertaking.
Because of her ability to read and write, beloved Sophie helps Diderot edit his books often writing her own entries. But the church determines that some could lead commoners astray. The book might even incite them to question authority of the French monarchy or even worse, the unscientific a priori thinking of the Roman church.
The Philosopher’s Kiss is a story of survival. It is a story of the human spirit finding itself at a time when new thought was unacceptable if it opposed religious/monarchial tradition. To further enhance this subjugation of the mind for readers, throughout the book’s pages are italicized Latin segments taken from the Roman Credo. Although the reader will easily get caught up in the growing revolutionary fervor that seems imminent, at the same time, the Credo is always present in the background, daring thinkers/readers to break with its religious tradition.
I would highly recommend The Philosopher’s Kiss for several reasons. 1) It details accurately the growing current of unrest of the 18th century. 2) It is highly suspenseful because like the characters portrayed, readers will experience their fear of getting caught by authorities. 3) The story is extremely educational because it brings together, the thoughts and actions of notables who have influenced today’s thinking. 4) While the tale is not poetic prose, nevertheless it is an extremely easy, well-written, fun read.