Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet on November 21, 1694, in Paris. His father had migrated to the capital from Poitou and prospered there. He held a minor post in the treasury. Voltaire was educated at the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand, and many years later the Jesuits were to be the objects of savage satire in his masterpiece Candide: Ou, L’Optimisme (1759; Candide: Or, All for the Best, 1759). Voltaire was trained in the law, which he abandoned. As a young man, during the first quarter of the century, Voltaire already exhibited strongly two traits which have come to be associated with the Enlightenment: wit and skepticism. Louis XIV ruled France until 1715, and the insouciant Voltaire (not yet known by that name) and his circle of friends delighted in poking fun at the pretentious backwardness of the Sun King’s court.
In 1716, when Voltaire was twenty-two, his political satires prompted the first of his several exiles, in this instance to Sully-sur-Loire. He was, however, unrepentant; in 1717, more satirical verses on the aristocracy caused his imprisonment by lettre de cachet (without trial). During his eleven months in the Bastille, Voltaire, like so many imprisoned writers before him, practiced his craft. He wrote Œdipe (1718; Oedipus, 1761), a...
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The son of prosperous bourgeois parents, Voltaire had a first- rate education and developed a satirical wit that gained him early acceptance by aristocratic circles. In 1717, however, a poem he wrote lampooning the recently deceased King Louis XIV earned him nearly a year’s confinement in the Bastille. Shortly after his release he adopted the pen name Voltaire and wrote a play titled Oedipe (1718) whose success established his reputation as a dramatist.
Eight years later Voltaire’s witty reply to a high aristocrat led to his being beaten by the aristocrat’s footmen and another term in the Bastille. By promising to leave the country, Voltaire gained release and went on a significant three- year journey to England. He compiled his laudatory observations of England as a land of liberty and tolerance in Lettres anglaises ou philosophiques (1734). Viewed as a direct and indirect criticism of France, this book was not allowed to be printed in France, where permission of the government’s director of publications was necessary. Even with such permission, decisions could be reversed or bans imposed by local legislative bodies, or by a vote of the theology faculty of the University of Paris.
To avoid censorship complications in France, Voltaire followed a common practice of French writers by publishing Lettres anglaises ou philosophiques in Amsterdam, whence it was smuggled into France. In response the Parlement of Paris condemned...
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Biography (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Article abstract: Voltaire encompasses in his work the extremes of rationalism during the Enlightenment. Until he was middle-aged, he was an Optimist, but in his sixties he rejected this philosophy in disgust and brilliantly argued the limitations of reason. He wrote prolifically in all literary forms during his lifetime, making critical commentary on prevailing social conditions and conventions.
Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet on November 21, 1694, in Paris. His father had migrated to the capital from Poitou and prospered there, holding a minor post in the treasury. Voltaire was educated at the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand, and many years later the Jesuits were to be the objects of savage satire in his masterpiece Candide. Voltaire was trained in the law, which he abandoned. As a young man, during the first quarter of the century, Voltaire already exhibited two traits that have come to be associated with the Enlightenment: wit and skepticism. Louis XIV ruled France until 1715, and the insouciant Voltaire (not yet known by that name) and his circle of friends delighted in poking fun at the pretentious backwardness of the Sun King’s court.
1716, when Voltaire was twenty-two, his political satires prompted the first of his several exiles, in this instance to Sully-sur-Loire. He was, however, unrepentant; in 1717, more satirical verses on the aristocracy caused his imprisonment by lettre de...
(The entire section is 2002 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet on November 21, 1694, the son of a grand bourgeois lawyer. From 1704 to 1711, he attended a Jesuit boarding school, after which he pursued the study of law until his political writings earned for him his first exile from Paris in 1716 and his first imprisonment in the Bastille in 1717. From that time on, he devoted himself to his writing, beginning with plays and poetry and expanding to literature, philosophy, and history. He was socially and intellectually precocious, associating with many aristocratic and libertine men in the Société du Temple (Society of the Temple) by the time he was twelve. Voltaire was brilliant, witty, a talented writer, and in later years, a social activist. Yet he could also be impulsive and hotheaded, which resulted in his arrest on several further occasions. Voltaire lived in various parts of France, England, Holland, Prussia, and Switzerland, moving in and out of these countries as his political sentiments and personal temperament made it unwise or impossible for him to stay where he was. He spent the last years of his life near the Swiss border, between his French homeland and the freer intellectual environment of Geneva, allowing himself an escape route to either country.
Voltaire was as untraditional in his personal life as in his political and philosophical ideas. His freedom from the norms of society, however, seemed to sustain his creative energies. In 1734, Voltaire...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
François-Marie Arouet, known to his contemporaries and to posterity as Voltaire, was born on November 21, 1694, very likely in Paris, though there is some evidence for Châtenay. His father, a former notary, was a well-to-do bourgeois. Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire grew up without a mother, whom he lost when he was seven years old. From 1704 to 1711, he attended the aristocratic Collège Louis-le-Grand, where he received an excellent classical formation from the Jesuits. Despite his later anticlericalism, Voltaire maintained several attachments to his Jesuit teachers, among them Father Thoulié, who received him into the Académie Française in 1746. Voltaire also formed lasting bonds with his companions, especially Charles Augustin Feriol, comte d’Argental, his lifelong friend.
Voltaire’s father envisioned a career in law for his son, who felt no attraction to it, and preferred writing. He frequented the frivolous Society of the Temple, and in 1713 was exiled to Holland by his father, beginning a series of travels and romantic liaisons that were to characterize his life. At the same time, he began his literary career with an ode to commemorate the construction of Notre-Dame, soon to be followed by a play that was declared insulting to the Regent Philippe of Orléans, for which he was imprisoned in the Bastille in 1718. An expert in the art of flattery, he soon learned to court royal favor, and was well received until an argument with Gui...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet in Paris in 1694. His father was a highly placed official and belonged to the upper middle class. Voltaire received an excellent classical education at the Jesuit school of Louis-le-Grand in Paris, where he displayed a talent for writing poetry. He also probably acquired his taste for theater there.
The Abbé de Châteauneuf, Voltaire’s godfather, introduced the twelve-year-old boy to the Society of the Temple, which was the domain of worldly libertines. Voltaire’s taste for witty irreverence and for luxurious living was definitely encouraged by this company. In 1711, Voltaire became a law student. As early as 1716, his satiric writing, aimed at the king’s regent and the poet Antoine Houdar de la Motte, caused Voltaire to be exiled twice to the provinces. In 1717, after writing a second time satirizing the regent, Voltaire was imprisoned (fairly comfortably) in the Bastille for eleven months. During this stay, he completed Oedipus and began to write La Ligue. Upon leaving prison, he changed his name to de Voltaire. He became famous with the success of Oedipus in 1718 and La Ligue in 1723, and as a result he was invited to the literary and social circles of the wealthy. He even became a habitué of the court and had three of his plays, Oedipus, Mariamne (pr. 1724; English translation, 1761), and L’Indiscret (pr., pb. 1725) performed as part of...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
On November 21, 1694, Voltaire was born François-Marie Arouet in Paris, the son of François Arouet and Marie-Marguerite Arouet. (“Voltaire” was a pseudonym first used in 1717.) From 1704 until 1711, he studied in Paris at the Jesuit secondary school of Louis-le-Grand, where he developed a keen interest in the classics and an intense distrust of organized religions. During his literary career, which lasted more than six decades, Voltaire remained a freethinker who never hesitated to denounce social injustice. His criticism was acerbic and frequently caused problems for him. In 1726, he offended an influential French nobleman, the Chevalier de Rohan, and was imprisoned in the Bastille. He obtained his freedom only by promising to leave France for England, where he would live for almost three years. Following his return to France, he lived with his mistress, Émilie du Châtelet, on her country estate at Cirey in northern Champagne.
After her death in 1749, the disconsolate Voltaire accepted an offer from King Frederick the Great of Prussia that he move to the royal court at Potsdam, just outside Berlin. By 1753, Voltaire had tired of Frederick’s benevolent despotism and decided to move to Geneva, where he admired the religious tolerance of this French-speaking city. In 1758, Voltaire purchased a country estate in Ferney, just across the French border from Geneva. Voltaire spent much of the last two decades of his life in Ferney, where he enjoyed his...
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Voltaire, one of France’s greatest writers, distinguished himself as a historian, novelist, dramatist, poet, philosopher, and crusader against religious intolerance. As a rationalist and Deist, he rejected the traditional Christian view of God and belief in the immortality of the soul. He adhered to a natural religion, believing in an impersonal, remote deity whose attributes were beyond human understanding but who inspired a great sense of awe. Voltaire shared the belief of fellow Deists who considered the essence of religion to be morality, a commitment to justice and humanity. He strongly believed that universal ethical principles were inherent in natural law and that the merit of human laws was determined by the extent to which they reflected such just and humane standards. Even though all religions derived from a universal rational source, the teachings of theologians and priests distorted the common truth, divided humanity, and perpetuated intolerance. Only under the guidance of enlightened thinkers who rose above superstition and prejudice could a rational morality be cultivated that would bring about human brotherhood. In practice, Voltaire promoted a social ethic that was conducive to the harmonious interest of the entire society. In pursuing this goal, he was quite willing to accept socially useful beliefs that he personally rejected. Thus, he held that, even though the deity probably did not concern himself with human affairs, it was good for the people to...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Although he was born a fragile child on November 21, 1694, in Paris, the capital of France, François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire (vohl-TAHR), was destined to have a long and tumultuous literary life. So great was his influence during the eighteenth century that historians speak of the Century of Voltaire. Few deny that he possessed a brilliant mind that both understood and moved the literary and political events of the time.
The young Arouet received little formal education before the age of nine, when he was sent to the Jesuit College of Louis-le-Grand. He had, however, been taken under the wing of his deist godfather, the Abbé de Châteauneuf, who was the chief cause—much to his father’s chagrin—of Arouet’s early introduction into the freethinking Society of the Temple. In this circle, ideas were debated, libertine literature read, and religious dogma examined. He remained under the official care of the Jesuits until, at the age of seventeen, he came home to his father (his mother had died when he was seven), who insisted that his son study law.
After some futile attempts to follow his father’s wishes, Arouet began the dangerous activity of writing libelous verse. Composing lampoons against the current French government eventually cost him eleven months in the infamous prison of the old regime, the Bastille. Never one to idle away his time, he began while imprisoned his epic poem La Henriade (1728; Henriade, 1732)...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
The man who, under the name of Voltaire (vohl-tayr), was to be remembered as the foremost spokesman of the Age of Enlightenment, was born François-Marie Arouet in Paris on November 21, 1694. The son of a prosperous lawyer who numbered among his friends members of the nobility and the literary aristocracy, young François-Marie grew up in an atmosphere of wit and culture. At the age of eleven, already known in Paris as an unusually clever rhymer of verses, he was invited to the salon of the celebrated Ninon de l’Enclos, thus gaining early entrée into a dazzling world of free morals and free thought. Although from a Jansenist family, François-Marie received his formal education at the Jesuit Collège Louis-le-Grand, where he acquired a solid classical background, familiarity with poetry and drama, and a number of noble and influential friends who were to serve him well throughout his lifetime.
While still in his school days, he became a member of the cultivated, freethinking, epicurean, and rather debauched “Society of the Temple.” Resisting his father’s efforts to make him a lawyer, he insisted that he would be a poet. Soon his biting verses mocking those in high places had earned for him several brief exiles from Paris and, in 1717, an eleven-month sojourn in the Bastille. He emerged from prison with a finished draft of Oedipus, the first of the more than fifty plays he was to write during his lifetime. Some of these plays were failures,...
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Born in Paris, France on November 21, 1694, author Francois-Marie Arouet was known primarily by his pen name, Voltaire. In many ways, Voltaire was the most modest and least introspective of men, certainly among celebrated men of letters that lived during that time. Even while spending Christmas night in 1764 with Boswell, the famous biographer of Samuel Johnson and other literary figures, Voltaire discussed philosophy, not himself. He simply could not shake off the notion that it is ill-bred to talk at length about oneself. Thus was a biographical opportunity missed for the sake of good manners in good company.
However, towards the end of his life, Voltaire did compile an autobiography which he published anonymously under the title Historical Commentary on the Works of the Author of the Henriade. It seems from this essay and from other cues among the works he published, that Voltaire regarded himself as his contemporaries did: as above all, the author of the Henriade (a universal history), then as a dramatist, a historian, and a philosopher. In the autobiographical essay, Voltaire said little about himself and the private elements of his life, but instead focused on his epic poems (both serious and burlesque), nearly all his plays, all his historical writings, and much of his poetry. He even mentioned a few controversial pieces of writing that he had previously disowned. But his stories (including Candide) went unmentioned in the...
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Voltaire's mother, Marie Marguerite Daumard, was the daughter of a member of Parliament and sister of the comptroller general of the royal guard. She had access to the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Daumard married François Aruoet, an affluent attorney, investor, and friend of the poet Nicolas Boileau, dramatist Pierre Corneille, and the courtesan Ninon de Lenclos. The Arouets had five children; the youngest one, born in Paris on November 21, 1694, was Voltaire.
At the age of 10 Voltaire entered the Jesuit College of Louis-le-Grand on the Left Bank of Paris. Voltaire graduated in 1711 with every intention of being a writer. His father, however, wanted him to study law.
In 1713, Voltaire was sent to The Hague as page to the French ambassador. Scandalously, he fell in love with Olympe de Noyer (nicknamed "Pimpete") and was summoned home, disinherited, and threatened with exile to the New World. Voltaire surrendered and studied law. His reputation and covert writing, however, caused him to be blamed for two poems critical of the regent, Phillipe d'Orleans, written by Le Brun. As a result, he was imprisoned in the Bastille from 1717 to 1718. There he wrote Oedipe, a tragedy, between the lines of books because he was denied paper. After his release, he began calling himself de Voltaire after a nondescript farm he inherited of that name.
In 1722, his father died and Voltaire was free from his control. In the same year, he met his rival, Rousseau, in Brussels. His growing squadron of enemies, spearheaded by the chevalier de Rohan, managed to have him exiled to England in 1726 where he was delighted to meet Englishmen like Jonathan Swift. In 1729, back in France he regained favor, published Lettres philosophiques in 1734, and became royal historiographer.
Voltaire frequented the court of Frederick the Great from 1750 to 1753. Disillusioned with the powerful Prussian, Voltaire settled permanently in Ferney, near the Swiss border, so that he could easily flee from trouble. There, word of the Lisbon earthquake shook his optimism and he wrote the Lisbon poem of 1756 and Candide in 1759. Over the next decade, he and his comrades—the philosophes—joined together to try and topple a few columns holding up "l'infame."
Voltaire had many hobbies. He single-handedly made his town, Ferney, a prosperous watch-manufacturing center. He was also concerned with injustice—most famously in the case of Jean Calas, whose innocence he helped to restore. With an authorial claim on some 80 total volumes of writings, he died in May 1778 in Paris, months after a successful showing of Irene. His ashes were moved to the Pantheon in 1791.