(Francois-Marie Arouet)


Voltaire, born Francois-Marie Arouet, was a French Enlightenment writer and philosopher. Voltaire published plays, essays, novels, and over 2,000 books and pamphlets during the course of his lifetime. In order to evade France’s strict censorships, he delivered his opinions to the people in the form of satirical works—books and plays that poked fun at the government’s failings, cleverly hidden inside a poem or story. His writing inspired those behind the French and American Revolutions, and he is still an important literary figure today.

By the time he left school, Francois-Marie knew that he wanted to be a writer, despite his father’s wishes that he pursue a career as a public officer. He pretended to work as an assistant to a notary, but when his father discovered that most of his son’s time was spent writing poetry instead, he sent him to law school. Francois-Marie served as secretary to the French ambassador in the Netherlands, where he fell in love with a Protestant refugee. Their planned elopement was found out, however, and Francois was forced to return to France. Back at home, he continued to write. At the same time, he had several run-ins with the Parisian authorities, often for his critiques of the government, which resulted in numerous incarcerations and exiles. Francois adopted the pen name “Voltaire,” based on an anagram of the Latinized version of his surname, in 1718. This was not his only pseudonym, though; he supposedly used at least 178 additional names throughout his career, primarily to protect his identity.

After Voltaire’s first exile from France, he resided in Great Britain for nearly three years. He was impressed by England’s constitutional monarchy, as well as its freedoms of speech and religion. After his return to France, he wrote a book praising the British government for its obvious superiority, but when French officials found out, they burned the book and Voltaire was again forced to flee. This time, he went to the Chateau de Cirey, where he began a fifteen-year relationship with the Chateau’s Marquise. He began to delve into studies of science and math, drawing inspiration from Sir Isaac Newton. He left the Marquise and began a new relationship with his niece, with whom he would later live until his death. After the Marquise passed away, Voltaire was employed by Frederick the Great, a position that contented the writer until their relationship began to deteriorate and he was arrested for satirizing a close companion of the king. Banned from Paris, he moved to Geneva and then Ferney. Voltaire returned to Paris in 1778 but fell ill and passed away in May of that year. Because of his religious sentiments, he was denied a Christian burial, but he was secretly laid to rest at the abbey of Scellieres.

Key events during the life of Voltaire:

Graduated from the College Louis-le-Grand
Adopted the pen name 'Voltaire'
Exiled to Great Britain
Fled to the Chateau de Cirey
Fell in love with his niece
Death of the Marquise
Was employed by King Frederick the Great
Publication of Candide
Saved a Huguenot man, Jean Calais, from an unjust conviction

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Taking of Quebec  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
Voltaire's Last Visit to Paris  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
Voltaire and Frederick the Great  in  Historical Tales: German  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

Voltaire's last visit to Paris
 in Historical Tales: French

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