*Includes Voltaire's quotes.
*Includes footnotes and a bibliography for further reading.
"To hold a pen is to be at war." - Voltaire
"All men are equal; it is not their birth, but virtue itself that makes the difference." - Voltaire
The grand narrative of the Enlightenment, usually recounted and understood in terms of progress and modernity, generally appears as a simplified evolution from the trappings of superstition, feudalism, and everything "irrational" to a world more similar to today's world. Alongside the Renaissance, the Enlightenment is credited for the transition to an adherence to reason, secularism, and promotion of values such as individual and collective freedom and liberty. At the heart of the movement in France was François-Marie Arouet, better known by the pen name Voltaire, whose voluminous writings advocated for greater liberalism, including the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. In addition to the classic Candide, Voltaire was a biting polemic whose satirical attacks on the Catholic Church were among the fiercest of his day. He also understood the risks he was taking with these writings, at one point explaining, "It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong."
The Enlightenment is looked upon fondly, and it serves to reinforce the notion that the present is superior to the past, but things did not change as rapidly or as completely as many believe. In fact, some recent historians have challenged the belief that the Enlightenment was responsible for the French Revolution, which is a vital issue when it comes to Voltaire. After all, Voltaire, as his contemporaries and as most of his modern readers know him, is widely regarded as the pinnacle of Enlightenment thought, the symbol of the era of reason, and the harbinger of modern values. In that regard, his work is often considered to be the backbone of the French Revolution, which began about a decade after his death. Voltaire was unquestionably monumental, but he was also an exceptional product of his age, and his writings can introduce readers to the broader picture of the Enlightenment as a sum of contrasting and varied forces, tendencies and events.
That Voltaire's own narrative should be read with caution and a critical eye is evident from the onset, as even salient facts in his biography bear the mark of self-fashioning and constantly draw the reader towards a tempting but simplified perspective of a progressive personal history. While it's important to assess his influence, it's also important to disentangle the actual man from his reputation, which was established in large part by his own writings. As one historian has aptly explained, "telling the story of the life of Voltaire is...as much about describing the self-conscious construction and mythologization of an intellectual identity as it is about enumerating the objective events that marked his career."
Legends of The Enlightenment: The Life and Legacy of Voltaire examines the life and works of one of the most famous philosophers of the 18th century. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about Voltaire like never before, in no time at all.