Voltaire and the Enlightenment. Voltaire (1694-1778) pseudonym of Francois Marie Arouet. Voltaire was the most influential author of the 18 th century, an epochal period that changed the thinking and culture of Western Europe.
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Voltaire at age 24
In 1726, while at the theater, Voltaire made a clever remark to the Chevalier de Rohan, a young nobleman, who resented that Voltaire made him look like a fool. To get even, Rohan had several men give Voltaire a serious beating, which he watched from his carriage. Furious, Voltaire took fencing lessons and planned to challenge Rohan to a duel, but the Chevalier refused to duel with a commoner. To avoid a problem, the powerful Rohan family had a lettre de cachet issued and Voltaire was arrested and taken to the Bastille. While in the Bastille for 11 months, Voltaire began his great epic on Henry IV, The Henriade.He was eventually released from prison after promising that he would leave France and go to England. (Birkenstock).
Facing both prosecution and persecution, Voltaire was exiled from Paris until 1778, the year of his death (Kors 5,452).
Gabrielle-Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Chatelet
For Voltaire, one must choose between a Leibnizian optimism that denies the existence of evil and a cry of humanistic anguish that admits it.
Philosophical optimism denies the human reality of irredeemable pain, injustice, and cruelty.
theological or metaphysical concerns to practial attention to the human condition, from abstract philosophy to humanistic activism (Kors 20).
Birkenstock, Jane M. “A Love Story—Voltaire and Emilie,” Chateau de Cirey-Residence of Voltaire (2009). Web. 14 June 2010.
Kors, Alan Charles. “The Assault Upon Philosophical Optimism: Voltaire,” The Birth of the Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 17th and 18th Centuries. Course 447.The Teaching Company, n.d. CD.
Kors, Alan Charles, Voltaire and the Triumph of the Enlightenment, Course 452.The Teaching Company, n.d. CD.
Walsh, Thomas Readings on Candide. Literary Companion to World Literature. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2001.