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Voltaire [François Marie Arouet]

(1694–1778), French author, essayist, philosopher


Son of the notary and civil servant François Arouet (1645–1722) and his wife, Marie Marguerite née Daumard (1661–1701), he was educated at the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand. Arrested for offensive satire in 1717, he spent nearly a year in the Bastille. In 1726 he travelled to London, where he made numerous literary acquaintances. Returning to France after two years, he quickly made a substantial fortune from speculation and various business ventures; in 1734, having become the lover of Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise Du Châtelet, he retired to her estate at Cirey in Lorraine. He gained a reputation as a historian through his Histoire de Charles XII (1731), and in 1745 was appointed royal historiographer; he was elected to the Académie Française a year later. Invited to Berlin by Frederick II in 1750, he spent an unhappy three years before escaping from Prussia; in 1755 settled in Les Délices, Geneva, with his niece and mistress, Marie Louise Denis. The following year he moved to Ferney, just inside the French border, where he remained for the rest of his life, returning to Paris for the triumphal performance of his tragedy Irène in 1778 and dying there shortly afterwards. His enormous corpus of writings includes every type of literature, including political and philosophical essays, works of science, histories and poems, but he was best known in his day as a dramatist and an anti-Establishment pamphleteer, though his short story satirizing Leibnizian optimism, Candide, ou L'optimisme (1759), is his most widely read work. His vast correspondence covers most of the known figures in France and Europe of his day. [Real name François Marie Arouet.]

Biographical note by Electronic Enlightenment Project.

Updated January 2009.

EE editions with biographical details

  • Bentham, Jeremy. The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. 12 vol. Ed. Timothy L. S. Sprigge (vol. 1, 2), Ian R. Christie (vol. 3), Alexander T. Milne (vol. 4, 5), J. R. Dinwiddy (vol. 6, 7), Stephen Conway (vol. 8–10), Catherine Fuller (vol. 11), Luke O'Sullivan & Catherine Fuller (vol. 12). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968–2006. Print.
  • Gustav III. Gustave III par ses lettres. Ed. Gunnar von Proschwitz. Stockholm: Norstedts Förlag, 1986. Print.
  • Helvétius, Claude Adrien. Correspondance générale d'Helvétius. 5 vol. Ed. David Smith et al. Toronto & Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1981–2004. Print.
  • Pope, Alexander. Correspondence of Alexander Pope. 5 vol. Ed. George Sherburn. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956. Print.
  • Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Correspondance complète de Jean Jacques Rousseau. 52 vol. Ed. Ralph A. Leigh. Geneva, Madison, Banbury, Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1965-1998. Print.

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