He is best known for his witty defense of civil liberties, freedom of religion, and free trade (he had staunch liberal views on economic issues), though he could be quite hypocritical about them from time to time. His views earned him one year in the Bastille at the time of the Régence, where he gained his penname. He would later make a huge fortune in military furniture and gain great influence in the French and Prussian royal courts under kings Louis XV and Frederick the Great.
He would go on to inspire multiple philosophers and satirical authors, especially amongst those who supported his views. His writings also were part of the corpus that inspired both the French and American revolutions. He was also a historian and a scientist who published multiple essays. Very prolific, as he published more than 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets. The name Voltaire comes from ''Arouet le jeune'' ("Arouet the Young"), converted to Latin script where U=V and J=I; AROVET L I -> VOLTAIRE.
He is eminently quotable and mis-quotable. His favourite target was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Ironically, both died the same year and rest in front of each other in the same crypt of the Pantheon in Paris; both are considered the spiritual fathers of The French Revolution, despite their personal enmity and clashing views.
Probably shouldn't be confused with the musician or the pinball game Cirqus Voltaire. He (or, rather, she) does, however, appear in the latter game as the founder of the titular "Cirqus", as well as its announcer and True Final Boss.
Writings by Voltaire:
- Letters on the English, 1733, revised 1778
- Zadig, 1747
- Micromégas, 1752
- Candide, 1759,
- Treatise on Tolerance, 1763
- Ce qui plaît aux dames, 1764
- Philosophical Dictionary, 1764
- The Ingenue, 1767
- La Princesse De Babylone, 1768
This author's works provide examples of:
- An Aesop: In every single of his philosophical tales.
- Alien Invasion: Micromégas may be the Ur-Example. Or, better, a First Contact.
- Badass Bookworm: Candide and many other characters.
- Beam Me Up, Scotty!:
- The quote "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize" is often attributed to Voltaire, especially by right-wing outlets. However, the quote actually comes from Kevin Alfred Strom, a neo-Nazi and convicted child molester.
- Though Voltaire was a known advocate of free speech, there is no historical evidence that he ever said or published the quote "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The line actually comes from a 1906 biography about Voltaire written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who was simply summing up his opinions on free speech.
- Circassian Beauty: Letters on the English may have first helped popularize the trope in western Europe. In his eleventh letter, Voltaire primarily discusses Circassian inoculation practices against smallpox, but also takes a paragraph to extol the beauty, virtue, and sexual talents of their maidens.
- Crapsack World: In Candide, everywhere except Eldorado. In L'Ingénu, everywhere except in the main character's tribe.
- Comes Great Responsibility: The Trope Namer, hundreds of years before Stan Lee wrote the same line in Amazing Fantasy 15.
- Deity of Human Origin: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." What Voltaire (a Deist) meant by this is that God is a useful supposition for the proper functioning of society regardless of whether he actually exists. He did not mean to imply that God is just a comforting lie humans tell themselves to give their lives meaning, despite the quote often being used in this way by atheists on the Internet.
- Foreign Culture Fetish: He had a bit of a thing for England/Britain, particularly its political institutions. He was a bit more ambivalent about their tragedies (he didn't really "get" William Shakespeare, although to be frank there wasn't a good French translation of the Bard at that time), but he loved the English comedies and Britain's tradition of satire. As he notes in his "Letters on England":''The English have reaped very great benefit from the writers of our nation, and therefore (since they have not scrupled to be in our debt) we ought to borrow from them. Both the English and [The French] came after the Italians, who have been our instructors in all the arts, and whom we have surpassed in some. I cannot determine which of the three nations ought to be honored with the palm; but happy the writer who could display their various merits.
- Hypocritical Humor: He once responded to debaters who use style over substance by saying "A witty saying proves nothing," but this is itself a witty saying.
- Old Shame: His bawdy mock-epic The Maid of Orleans became this thanks to the backlash he received for it. He wound up publishing a heavily edited version decades latter that cut out most of the objectionable content and themes of the original.
- Punny Name: Loads of them, particularly in Candide starting with Candide himself ("candid", due to him starting out as a quite honest Wide-Eyed Idealist) to his mentor Pangloss ("all tongue" in Greek) and lastly Pococurante ("caring little" in Italian).
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Enlightenment, despite the cynicism.
- Run for the Border: His writing was not always appreciated, and he had to flee as a result, spending some time an exile in foreign countries.
- Skilled, but Naive: Candide and l'Ingénu both have names which mean "naive". Indeed, they are skilled in many ways, especially books, but very ignorant towards the reality of their world.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Rather cynical, but with some idealist hints.
- Take That!: "I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it."
- You Have Failed Me: Candide, witnessing the execution of John Byng, a British admiral executed for losing a battle, is told that "in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others".