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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Voltaire at the New Yorker

Adam Gopnik has a very nice piece posted at the New Yorker magazine. It is a review in passing of several books on Voltaire. Anyway, whatever it is, the old philosopher and novelist is still fascinating after some 250 years:

There are at least three distinct Voltaires. First is the scandalous Voltaire, who by the seventeen-twenties had become the leading controversialist in France, with a series of topically loaded plays and poems, only to be thrown into the Bastille twice for being generally annoying, and in 1726 get exiled to England, where he absorbed and wrote about English learning and English parliamentary institutions. Next, there is the scientific Voltaire, who returned to France in 1728 and eventually became the lover and disciple of the brilliant Mme. Châtelet, and who, closeted with her at her Château de Cire, wrote on math and science and did more than almost anyone else to bring the news of Newtonian physics to Europe. Then, from the seventeen-fifties until his death, in 1778, there is the socially conscious Voltaire, the Voltaire who became one of the first human-rights campaigners in Europe, and whose determination to remake the world one soul at a time W. H. Auden could still idealize in 1939, in his poem “Voltaire at Ferney.” [Read full article.]

While his novel Candide receives the usual notice, nothing is said of another of his delightful satires: Zadig. It is an equally short novel and equally worth the read.

Source>Conversational Reading>New Yorker.

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