Candide and Related Texts

By Voltaire; David Wootton | Go to book overview

VOLTAIRE’S FEMINISM

WIVES OBEY YOUR HUSBANDS1

One day the abbot of Châteauneuf2 told me that madame the wife of the marshal de Grancey3 was very overbearing; and that she had some very fine qualities. Above all she took pride in her own self-respect, so she never did anything that would make her feel guilty, even in secret; she never demeaned herself to tell a lie: she preferred to speak a truth that might prove harmful to her rather than conceal the truth to her own benefit. She said that dissimulation is always a sign of cowardice. A thousand generous deeds adorned her life, but when she was praised for them she thought she was being insulted. She said, “Am I to take it you think that behaving properly required an effort on my part?” Her lovers adored her; her friends cherished her; and her husband respected her.

Forty years went by, devoted to pleasure and to the cycle of amusements that are the serious business of women; during this period she never read a word except when she read letters addressed to her; she thought about nothing except political gossip, the idiocies of her neighbors, and the affections of her heart. Finally, when she found herself at the age at which, as they say, women who have both beauty and brains begin to rely on their brains rather than their beauty, she decided to start reading. She began with the tragedies of Racine, and was astonished to find that she enjoyed reading them even more than she had enjoyed seeing them performed. The good taste with which she was gifted enabled her to recognize that this was an author who could never be boring or untruthful; that he had an unerring sense of form; that he was plain-speaking and noble, avoiding anything artificial or rhetorical, and not interested in showing off; that the details of his plots, and the thoughts of his characters were taken from nature. She rediscovered in her reading the story of her own emotions, and found her own life portrayed.

She was encouraged to read Montaigne. She was charmed by an author who entered into a conversation with her and who had no certainties. Then she was given Plutarch’s Great Men. She asked why he hadn’t written the lives of great women.

1. Probably written c. 1764, when Voltaire was much impressed with Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, who had recently come to the throne. First published in the Mélanges (1765).

2. d. 1709.

3. d. 1694.

-143-

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Candide and Related Texts
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction viii
  • Chronology xxxiv
  • Further Reading xxxviii
  • A Note on the Texts xli
  • Notes on the Translation xlii
  • Candide, or Optimism1 1
  • Before Voltaire 84
  • The Lisbon Earthquake- Rousseau versus Voltaire 95
  • Toward Candide 123
  • Voltaire’s Correspondence 132
  • After Candide 137
  • Voltaire’s Feminism 143
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