Voltaire Voltaire[2†]

Voltaire, whose real name was François-Marie Arouet, was born on November 21, 1694, in Paris, France[1†][2†]. He is recognized as one of the greatest French writers[1†]. Although only a few of his works are still read, he continues to be held in worldwide repute as a courageous crusader against tyranny, bigotry, and cruelty[1†]. His work, characterized by its critical capacity, wit, and satire, vigorously propagates an ideal of progress to which people of all nations have remained responsive[1†].

Early Years and Education

François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, was born on November 21, 1694, in Paris, France[1†][4†]. His father, François Arouet, was a notary who later became a receiver in the Cour des Comptes (audit office)[1†]. Voltaire’s mother, Marie Marguerite d’Aumart, passed away when he was only seven years old[1†][4†]. This event caused him to rebel against his father and older siblings[1†][4†].

Voltaire received a first-class education at ‘Louis-le-Grand’, a Jesuit college in Paris[1†][4†][5†]. He was educated by the Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand from 1704 to 1711, where he was taught Latin, theology, and rhetoric[1†][5†][2†]. Later in life, he became fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English[1†][2†].

Despite his father’s wishes for him to follow a career in law, Voltaire aspired to become a writer[1†][4†][5†]. His early career was dictated by his father’s wishes. After completing his education, his father first sent him to work as a notary assistant in Paris[1†][4†]. However, Voltaire spent most of his time writing satirical poetry[1†][4†].

Career Development and Achievements

Voltaire’s career was marked by his prolific writing and his courage to challenge the status quo[1†][6†]. He wrote more than 50 plays, dozens of treatises on science, politics, and philosophy, and several books of history on everything from the Russian Empire to the French Parliament[1†][6†]. His correspondence amounted to some 20,000 letters to friends and contemporaries[1†][6†].

Voltaire’s caustic wit first got him into trouble with the authorities in May 1716, when he was briefly exiled from Paris for composing poems mocking the French regent’s family[1†][6†]. The young writer was unable to bite his tongue, however, and only a year later he was arrested and confined to the Bastille for writing scandalous verse implying the regent had an incestuous relationship with his daughter[1†][6†]. Voltaire boasted that his cell gave him some quiet time to think, and he eventually did 11 months behind bars before winning a release[1†][6†].

In 1729, Voltaire teamed with mathematician Charles Marie de La Condamine and others to exploit a lucrative loophole in the French national lottery[1†][6†]. The scheme left Voltaire with a windfall of nearly half a million francs, setting him up for life and allowing him to devote himself solely to his literary career[1†][6†].

Voltaire’s best-known work and magnum opus, Candide, is a novella which comments on, criticizes and ridicules many events, thinkers and philosophies of his time, most notably Gottfried Leibniz and his belief that our world is the "best of all possible worlds"[1†][6†].

At Ferney, Voltaire entered one of the most active periods of his life[1†][7†]. Both patriarch and lord of the manor, he developed a modern estate, sharing in the movement of agricultural reform in which the aristocracy was interested at the time[1†][7†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Voltaire was a versatile and prolific writer, producing works in almost every literary form[1†][8†]. Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works made significant contributions to their respective genres and continue to be studied and appreciated today. Voltaire’s wit, satire, and critique of established systems are evident in these works, reflecting his commitment to freedom of thought and expression[1†][8†][9†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Voltaire’s writings are vast, spanning more than one hundred volumes of letters, literature, and scholarship[10†]. He wrote in both French and English, publishing his works in several countries, depending on the prevailing political climate[10†]. Voltaire has been remembered most for his incisive short stories, which convey complex philosophical ideas[10†]. During his own age, however, he was noted as a political satirist, playwright, and poet[10†].

He was a master of the epic poem, and his “La Henriade” (1728) revived the popularity of this genre[10†]. His plays were renowned throughout France, and “Oedipe” (1718), produced when Voltaire was only twenty-four, received critical acclaim[10†]. His major philosophical work, “Dictionnaire philosophique portatif” (1764), was an ambitious compendium of philosophical ideas and terms[10†]. In addition, his historical writings, such as “Le Siècle de Louis XIV” (1751), have earned for him a reputation as one of the first modern historians[10†].

Voltaire’s scathing attacks on intolerance, injustice, and superstition scandalized many of the powerful in the government and the French Roman Catholic Church, but his humor, imagination, and daring in expressing his opinions won for him numerous followers[10†]. His ideas on the freedom and dignity of the individual are credited with having had a strong influence on the French Revolution of 1789[10†]. His satirical and irreverent wit gradually eroded some of the religious and political intolerance of eighteenth-century France[10†].

Through its critical capacity, wit, and satire, Voltaire’s work vigorously propagates an ideal of progress to which people of all nations have remained responsive[10†][1†]. His long life spanned the last years of classicism and the eve of the revolutionary era, and during this age of transition, his works and activities influenced the direction taken by European civilization[10†][1†].

Personal Life

Voltaire, born as François Marie Arouet, had a complex personal life. Despite never marrying, his life was filled with a series of mistresses, paramours, and long-term lovers[6†]. His relationships were not limited to the aristocracy, but extended to various strata of society, reflecting his own diverse interests and engagements.

Voltaire’s mother died when he was seven years old, and he developed a close relationship with his godfather, a free-thinker[6†][11†]. This early loss and subsequent emotional bond may have played a role in shaping Voltaire’s independent thought and his relentless pursuit of intellectual freedom.

In his youth, Voltaire fell in love with a French refugee, Catherine Olympe Dunoyer, who was pretty but barely educated[6†][11†]. Their marriage was stopped, and under the threat of a lettre de cachet (an official letter from a government calling for the arrest of a person) obtained by his father, Voltaire returned to Paris[6†][11†].

Throughout his life, Voltaire maintained a vast correspondence with many people, including several notable women of his time. These letters provide a glimpse into his personal life, revealing his interests, passions, and the nature of his relationships.

Despite the tumultuous nature of his personal life, Voltaire’s influence extended far beyond his personal sphere. His writings and ideas left a significant impact on the world, making him one of the most influential figures of the Enlightenment era.

Conclusion and Legacy

Voltaire’s name has always evoked vivid reactions[12†]. Toward the end of his life, he was attacked by the followers of Rousseau, and after 1800 he was held responsible for the French Revolution[12†]. However, the excesses of clerical reactionaries under the Restoration and the Second Empire rallied the middle and working classes to his memory[12†].

At the end of the 19th century, though conservative critics remained hostile, scientific research into his life and works was given impetus by Gustave Lanson[12†]. Voltaire himself did not hope that all his vast quantity of writings would be remembered by posterity[12†]. His epic poems and lyrical verse are virtually dead, as are his plays[12†]. But his contes are continually republished, and his letters are regarded as one of the great monuments of French literature[12†].

He bequeathed a lesson to humanity, which has lost nothing of its value[12†]. He taught his readers to think clearly; his was a mind at once precise and generous[12†]. “He is the necessary philosopher,” wrote Lanson, “in a world of bureaucrats, engineers, and producers”[12†].

Voltaire’s influence and legacy extend far into the modern day[12†][13†]. His writings and philosophy have deeply influenced the way we approach social issues[12†][13†]. The key insights obtained from the analysis of Voltaire’s works underscore the enduring relevance of his perspectives on human nature and the pursuit of a good life[12†][14†]. They emphasize the significance of reason, virtue, intellectual curiosity, and justice in leading meaningful and fulfilling lives[12†][14†].

Voltaire would put power behind his words and routinely challenge authority[12†][15†]. This directly led to other people challenging authority as well[12†][15†]. As a result, the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw several resolutions in favor of a shift from authoritarian governments such as monarchies to democracies[12†][15†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Voltaire: French philosopher and author [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Voltaire [website] - link
  3. New World Encyclopedia - Voltaire [website] - link
  4. The Famous People - Voltaire Biography [website] - link
  5. ThoughtCo - The Life and Work of Voltaire, French Enlightenment Writer [website] - link
  6. History - 10 Things You Should Know About Voltaire [website] - link
  7. Britannica - Voltaire - Enlightenment, Writing, Activism [website] - link
  8. Britannica - Life and works of Voltaire [website] - link
  9. Britannica - What did Voltaire write? [website] - link
  10. eNotes - Voltaire Analysis [website] - link
  11. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Voltaire Biography [website] - link
  12. Britannica - Voltaire - Enlightenment, Philosopher, Satire [website] - link
  13. Animus Bytes - Voltaire’s Influence on Modern Day Society [website] - link
  14. theromeros.net - Voltaire’s Reflections on Human Nature and the Pursuit of a Good Life [website] - link
  15. The History Ace - Voltaire: The 3 Ways He Changed The World [website] - link
  16. Britannica - Who was Voltaire? [website] - link
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