Short Biography of Voltaire
Although he seemed to spark controversy no matter where he decided to settle, Voltaire was ultimately a philosopher whose lesson was to open peoples’ eyes to reality and deal with issues clearly. In literary circles, he sparked as much contempt as he did admiration, which only added to his wealth and esteem. His most popular work, Candide, outlined his beliefs that the naïve could not prevail and that tyranny and cruelty would have to be fought. His writings not only sparked the enlightenment in France, but also a revolution.
Born into a middle-class family, Voltaire was the son of either Francois Arouet or a songwriter named Rochebrune. Voltaire never mentioned much in his writings or life about his mother, probably because she passed when he was seven. Always a rebel, he decided to take refuge under his godfather, who promoted his freethinking ways and showed him the finer things in life.
In Paris, Voltaire attended a Jesuit college and knew he would pursue a career in theatre and literature. He began honing in his own ideas about political powers too; believing monarchies were worthwhile only if he who was in power promoted progress amongst his people. After a scandal in the Hague, he was sent back to Paris. In Paris, he rose the ranks in society for his mockery of its rulers. With the success of his first play, called Oedipe, the public compared him to the playwright Jean Racine. Thereafter, he adopted the name Voltaire, which many have claimed (although it remains uncertain) was an off-centered anagram of Arouet le jeune (the younger). For creating a mockery of one Duke in his works, he was imprisoned for nearly a year.
With so much against him already, he exiled to England where he wrote in English and visited such prominent writers as Jonathan Swift and philosopher George Berkeley. While there, he also began studying Shakespeare, which he admired, save the violence of the plots. He famously referred to Shakespeare as a “drunken savage”. Following his stint in England, Voltaire returned to France where he would spark national controversy with his writings and plays. He was also able to build up a fortune through his works, but failed at his attempts to bring a Shakespeare-like drama movement to France.
Always writing and satirizing the political and religious leaders of the day, he became a wanted man by warrant in 1734. He, however, moved in with Mme du Chatelet in Champagne and worked on his own poetry. He soon moved to Geneva, hoping for tolerance. His performances were stopped there when he released a mock poem about Joan of Arc. After leaving Geneva, Voltaire began working on his most famous satirical, political, and philosophical work called Candide.
In Paris, he ventured back onto the theatre scene and immediately became a national icon. Within months of his return, all the excitement and demands of social life took a toll on him and he died of uremia. His body was eventually taken to the Pantheon during the French Revolution.