The Fables of Reason: A Study of Voltaire's Contes Philosophiques

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This is the first comprehensive study in English of Voltaire's contes philosophiques--the philosophical tales for which he is best remembered and which include his masterpiece Candide. Pearson situates each story in its historical and intellectual context and offers new readings in light of modern critical thinking. He rejects the traditional view that Voltaire's contes were the private expression of his philosophical perplexity, and argues that it is narrative that is Voltaire's essential mode of thought. His book is a witty, lucid, and scholarly guide to the "fables of reason" through which Voltaire's skepticism undermined the contemporary religious and philosophical explanations of human experience.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Pearson...makes a compelling case for the fundamental importance of narrative in Voltaire's writings....Perceptive analyses of lesser-known tales as well as the better-known yield valuable insights."--Choice

"A very good book....Pearson has surveyed what he calls the 'fables of reason' in a solid, exegetical style and has provided, at the end of his essay, a provocative discussion of the two radical interpretations conferred on Voltaire - as the apostle of Enlightenment (Paul Valery) or the precursor of twentieth-century totalitarianism (Isaiah Berlin). What distinguishes Pearson's essay is his readiness to take on the big names in Voltaire studies and offer more nuanced views of Voltair's purposes and attitudes."--Eighteenth-Century Fiction

"In a much needed, thorough reexamination of Voltaire's philosophic tales, Roger Pearson brilliantly uncovers in The Fables of Reason: A Study of Voltaire's Contes Philosophiques the literary and linguistic strategies that place narrative ambiguity at the heart of Voltaire thought....Pearson's prose is lively and engaging, his observations keen and witty; in short, his readers will have a difficult time resisting the temptation to re-read Voltaire's stories at least once again."--French Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198158806
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/28/1993
  • Pages: 280
  • Lexile: 1440L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.69 (w) x 8.75 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

The Queen's College, Oxford
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Table of Contents

Note on References
I The Fables of Reason
1 The conte philosophique and its Readers 3
2 Statistics and Symposia: L'Homme aux quarante ecus 20
3 Fallen Fables 33
II The Voyage of Reason and the Problem of Evil
4 Party Games: Le Crocheter borgne and Cosi-Sancta 41
5 Man in the Universe: Micromegas 49
6 Man in the World: Le Monde comme il va, Zadig, Memnon, and Lettre d'un turc 72
7 Small Consolations: Songe de Platon, Histoire des voyages de Scarmentado, and Les Deux Consoles 102
8 The Candid Conte: Candide ou l'optimisme 110
III Literature and Enlightenment
9 Education and 'Merry Hissing': Histoire d'un bon brahmin, Pot-pourri, Le Blanc et le noir, Jeannot et Colin, Petite digression, and Aventure indienne 139
10 Hearts and Minds: L'Ingenu 168
11 'L'univers en raccourci': la Princesse de Babylone and Les Lettres d'Amabed 194
12 Totem and Taboo: Le Taureau blanc 212
13 Anglicans and Academics: Aventure de la memoire, Eloge historique de la raison, Les Oreilles du comte de Chesterfield, and Histoire de Jenni 219
Conclusion 241
Voltaire's Contes 251
Select Bibliography 252
Index 263
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