Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview

VOLTAIRE (FRANÇOIS-MARIE AROUET)

(1694-1778)

Richard A. Brooks


BIOGRAPHY

François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire (a pseudonym he adopted in his early twenties), was a philosopher, playwright, essayist, historian, poet, and writer of fiction. At age twenty-one he was incarcerated in the Bastille after being wrongly accused of slandering the regent, Philippe d'Orléans. During his imprisonment he wrote his first tragedy, Oedipe (after the Greek dramatist Sophocles' Oedipus the King) and the beginnings of his epic poem on Henry IV entitled La Henriade. Nine years later he found himself once again in the Bastille, this time having quarreled with a member of the powerful de Rohan family, and was released only on the stipulation that he go into exile in England. Here he spent the next two years mastering English, writing two essays in that language, and becoming acquainted with British literary figures of the period. His stay in England provided him with a model for religious and political ideas that shaped his thought for the rest of his life. The spirit of religious toleration and the scientific and philosophical ideas of Locke and Newton became the basis of his intellectual outlook. Indeed, his Lettres philosophiques, published in French in 1734, following an English version of the same work entitled Letters Concerning the English Nation a year earlier, was a catalyst for the popularity of English philosophical and scientific thought throughout the French Enlightenment. It was during his English stay that he also wrote his first historical work, Histoire de Charles XII.

He took up residence in 1734 at the Chateau de Cirey in the duchy of Lorraine with his companion, the marquise du Châtelet, who exerted a strong intellectual influence over him. It was there that he wrote his Eléments de la philosophie de Newton and engaged in physical and chemical experiments with Madame du Châtelet. During this same period Voltaire became historiographer of France and a “gentleman of the king's bedchamber” through the influence of Madame

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