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François-Marie Arouet,


(1694 - 1778)

Biography of Voltaire :

Voltaire is one of greatest French writers: playwright, satirical polemist, philosopher, historian and moralist. François-Marie Arouet, otherwise known as Voltaire, is born in a middle class family; her father was a notary. He follows brilliant studies among the Jesuits of the high school Louis-Le-Grand, in Paris. Disrespectful verses oblige him to remain in province before his imprisonment in the Bastille (1717). An altercation with the knight Rohan-Chabot leads him again to the Bastille, then constrains him to a three years exile in England. Getting in touch with the philosophers of this country where the freedom of expression is larger than in France, he commits himself in a reforming philosophy of justice and society.

Of return in France, Voltaire continues his literary career. His objective is the research of truth and to make it known to transform society. In Cirey (in Lorraine, France), he writes tragedies ("Zaire", "The Death Of Caesar"...) and, with less success, comedies ("Nanine"). He criticizes war in "The History of Charles XII" (1731) then attacks the Christian dogmas in "Epistles to Uranie"(1733) and the political system in France, founded on the divine right, in "Philosophical Letters"(1734).

"Official" poems allow him to join the French Academy and the royal court as historiographer of the king in 1746. However, "Zadig" obliges him to go into exile in Potsdam on the invitation of Frederic II of Prussia, then in Geneva. He settles definitively in Ferney, close to the Swiss border, where he receives all the intellectual elite of this time. In 1759, he publishes Candide, one of his most famous and completed works. Indignant by intolerance, wars and injustices weighing on humanity, he denounces there the providentialist thought and metaphysics far from reality. With corrosive lampoons, Voltaire fights untiringly for justice and for the triumph of reason (The Calas case, Sirven, knight de La Barre). In 1778, he finally comes back in Paris, in the French Academy and in the French Comedy, but, exhausted by his triumph, he dies there not long after.

Anti-religious, Voltaire denounces by virulent way clericalism and the dogmas of religions. However, he believes in a Creator, but not a revealed God. Therefore, his positions are close to those of the English deists. For him, the smallness of man, lost in the vastness of Universe, makes vain and ridiculous his search after absolute or the understanding of God's purposes. Voltaire may be considered as one of the greatest defenders of freethinking as well as secularity being a condition for happiness of man.

Voltaire leaves a considerable works. Because of censure, the majority of his writings were prohibited. They were published by anonymous ways, printed abroad and introduced clandestinely in France.
Bibliography : Oedipe (1718), Henriade (or the League, 1723), Brutus (1730), History of Charles XII (1731), Zaire (1732), Philosophical Letters (1734), The Death of Caesar (1735), Discourse on Man (1738), Epistles to Uranie (1733), Zadig (1747), Nanine (1749), The Century of Louis XIV (1751), The Maid of Orleans (1752), Micromegas (1752), Essay on the Manner and Spirit of Nations (1756), Candide or Optimism (1759), A Treatise on Toleration (1763), Jeannot and Colin (1764), Philosophical Dictionary (1764), L'Ingénue (1767), The Princess of Babylon (1768).

Quotes of Voltaire

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