Uploaded by angelttt on Oct 31, 2011
This essay examines some of Voltaire’s writing techniques.
While it is a matter of debate whether or not Voltaire was the single most important writer of the French Enlightenment, there is not doubt that he was a vital part of the movement. By virtue of his long life (1694-1778), he was part of most of the important events of his time, and that alone assures him a place in history unique among writers.
This paper examines his work to see how and why he made such an impact.
II General Comments
Voltaire was a gifted writer with a huge number of readers. It is the size of his audience that made his propaganda so effective, because when he wrote, everyone read it. The size of his loyal audience gave him an advantage that his opponents lacked. (Sareil, PG).
Or perhaps one should say “opponent” in the singular, since Voltaire’s scorn was directed almost entirely at the Roman Catholic Church. Voltaire was not an unbeliever by any means; in fact, he had a strong faith in God. But he had no use for the Church hierarchy or the excesses of its priests, and it was the human element in the Church that he opposed. The Roman Catholic Church in Voltaire’s time was an immensely powerful organization, and furthermore it was closely allied to the state, which supported its doctrines and laws. Voltaire thus understood that outright attacks upon the Church would have serious consequences for him, so he cloaked his attacks in fiction which, as I’ve said, was extremely popular, gaining him legions of readers who adored him, as well as detractors who despised him.
The point of all this is that Voltaire’s writings are more than sheer entertainment. They contain pointed commentary on the times in which he lived and on the excesses of the Church, and because that commentary was often critical, the writing is of necessity somewhat opaque. Despite this, everyone knew exactly what he was doing, but writing as he did, using satire, irony and wit, rather than direct attacks, enabled him to make his points without actually libeling his targets. (Sareil, PG).
III The Works
Voltaire wrote an enormous number of works including plays, epic poems, letters, essays, articles and novels. He was a true genius, and found success in every genre. The work that...