Digital Voltaire project: Voltaire — life documents

Voltaire and the Enlightenment

a biography by Nicholas E. Cronk

“The age of Voltaire” has become synonymous with “the Enlightenment”, but although Voltaire’s eminence as a philosophe is self-evident, the precise originality of his thought and writings is less easily defined. Born in Paris into a wealthy bourgeois family, he was a brilliant pupil of the Jesuits. His rejection of his father’s attempts to guide him into a career in the law was sealed in 1718, when he invented a new name for himself: Voltaire is an anagram of “Arouet l(e) j(eune)” (the verb volter, to turn abruptly, evoking perhaps a playful or “volatile” quality); de Voltaire, with the addition of the aristocratic preposition, is an early sign of his social ambition. . . .

Nicholas E. Cronk
Director, Voltaire Foundation
University of Oxford

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