Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Zadig: Or, The Book of Fate, Voltaire’s first published philosophical tale, was written at a time when the author was finally receiving official recognition for his many literary accomplishments. In 1745, Monsieur Arouet de Voltaire received a court appointment from the king of France, Louis XV. As royal historiographer and later ordinary gentleman of the king’s bedchamber, Voltaire moved easily through the long galleries of the royal palace of Versailles. A close look at courtly pettiness, intrigues, and plotting served only to reinforce Voltaire’s already low estimation of palace royalty and bootlicking government officials. This time was also the period when Voltaire’s long love affair with Mme de Châtelet was ending. She had chosen a younger man over him, and for a time Voltaire was in a jealous rage.
Zadig, a tale set in eighteenth century Persia, reflects both the personal circumstances of Voltaire and the more profound philosophical questions concerning the nature of free will and happiness. Voltaire asks the same question on almost every page of the story: Can an honest and wise person lead a happy life in a world filled with liars, scoundrels, and cheats? In a story with a very thin plot, the reader follows the intelligent and kind Zadig through his travels among dishonest, deceitful, and cruel people who attempt to do him harm at every turn. First married to one of the most noble, desirable, and beautiful women of all...
(The entire section is 1432 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Zadig, a charming young man with a good education and great wealth, lives in the time of King Moabdar in Babylon. Despite the fact that he is a very sensible young man, or perhaps because of it, he never boasts of his own abilities or tries to find fault in others. He expects that with the advantages he modestly enjoys he will have no difficulty in being happy, but he is mistaken in this belief.
In rescuing the beautiful Sémire from kidnappers, Zadig is injured by an arrow in his left eye. The great doctor Hermes predicts that he will lose the eye because wounds in the left eye never heal. When Zadig’s eye does heal, the doctor writes a book proving that it could not have happened. Unfortunately, Sémire, to whom Zadig has been betrothed, decides that she does not like one-eyed men. In her ignorance of Zadig’s recovery, she marries Orcan, the young nobleman who sent the kidnappers to seize her.
Zadig marries Azora, the wisest girl in the city, who takes a frivolous interest in handsome young men. When she scolds a widow for changing the course of a stream in order to escape from her vow to stay by her husband’s tomb as long as the stream flows there, Zadig arranges to have Azora told that he has died. He then has his friend Cador make friendly overtures to Azora and, having done so, complain of a pain in the spleen for which there is but one cure: rubbing the place with the nose of a man who has been dead no more than twenty-four hours....
(The entire section is 1539 words.)