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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Voltaire was born on 21 November 1694. He was legally the son of Francois Arouet, an official in the tax department in Paris. However, it has been presumed that he may have actually been the son of a minor poet Rochebrune who was a frequent visitor to Voltaire’s home.
When Voltaire was nine years old he was sent to a Jesuit school, where he studied Greek and Latin classics and became familiar with the Bible. Although he received Christian education, he gradually rejected the Christian views. He believed that God was the creator of this world, but he did not believe that God was really bothered about the welfare of every individual. He wrote his first poems at an early age. He remained a Christian till the end of his life to ensure himself a decent burial. He completed his formal education at the age of sixteen.
Voltaire admired and paid tribute to Louis XIV who was the King of France throughout Voltaire’s early life. The King’s son was only five years old. Voltaire conspired against the Regent Philip of Orleans who was the King’s new regent. He was accused of satirical writing against him. He was imprisoned at Bastille for nearly a year. In prison, he began his epic, poem Henriade. In it he condemned the hypocrisy of the church and the selfishness of the people connected with it. The poem was highly appreciated. One finds criticism of religious persons in Candide too. In 1718, he wrote his tragedy Oedipe. It was a great success and ran for forty-five performances.
In his thirties, Voltaire was often abused and insulted by a nobleman named Rohan-Chabot. When he reciprocated the insults he was thrown back into the Bastille. He was disgusted with this abuse of position and privilege. He left for England in 1726 after his release from Bastille. There he learnt English and could speak English fluently. He read the works of renowned authors like Shakespeare, Bacon and Milton and others. He did not agree with Milton’s views on death and sin.
Voltaire was largely influenced by Pope and Gay. He also admired Newton’s Laws of Physics. Voltaire’s philosophical letters not only paid homage to England but also criticized the existing situation in France. The French court felt threatened and refused permission to publish the book in France. Voltaire’s writings were very emphatic. It ranked high among the causes of the French revolution.
Voltaire wrote about fifty to sixty tragedies and comedies. He wrote Historic de Charles XII. In Alzire, he condemns ruthless imperialism in Spanish America. In Mahomet he condemns fanaticism. In Oedipe he voices his views against political and religious oppression. Henriade is written in praise of a tolerant King. He thought La Pucella would make the Swiss more civilized and tolerant.
He wrote Zaire in 1732. In 1733, his English letters and the satirical poem Temple du Gout were published. These works angered many people. He wrote Merope in 1741. This is an Oriental tragedy in which religion is of no help in case of passionate love. In 1745 Poeme de Fonterary proved to be a great success.
Voltaire disagreed with the ideas of Rousseau who advocated a return to natural life. He criticized impractical optimism in his poem about the Lisbon disaster. Such satirical criticism is seen in Candide too. He emphasized that only hard work and honesty can provide hope for a better world. A number of short stories and Dictionnaire Philosophique criticize the fantasy in religion. To Voltaire, conscience was the voice of humanity, not God. Moral concepts and the ideas of justice arose from living in society. If society does not provide these values man becomes morally and socially impoverished. At the end of Candide, Candide and his colleagues settle down to cultivate their own garden through hard work and honesty. This is an expression of Voltaire’s immense desire to maintain a profitable and exemplary agricultural economy. This can only be achieved through hard work and honesty. Along with his niece Ferney he cultivated his estates carefully. Thus roads were built, industries flourished. People were grateful to him. On 30 March 1778, Voltaire was honored in Paris like a hero. He drove across Paris in a blue coach studded with golden stars amidst cheering crowd. He died two months later.
Candide is highly influenced by Voltaire’s views and his own experiences of life. He uses satire to criticize superstition, religion, aristocracy, and the church. However it is relevant to note that he has done so in a dignified manner, avoiding vulgarity and crudeness whenever he possibly can.
Voltaire had read and admired the works of many great authors like Swift, Pope, Gay, Shakespeare, Milton, and others. His writing in Candide is critical of Pope’s view in Essay on Man when he (Pope) emphasizes that whatever is, is right. Voltaire proves through Candide that this is not true.
Voltaire was shocked and immensely touched by the earthquake that took place in Lisbon in 1755. It caused severe destruction. He is also critical of the people associated with the church when he depicts their atrocities and immorality in Candide. The Pope has an illegitimate daughter though he ought to be a celibate according to the rules of the church.
Voltaire’s on ill treatment and humiliation at the hands of Rohan-Chabot, a nobleman influenced some of the passages in Candide. Voltaire actually wrote Candide during a three-week stay at Schwetzingen. He got the idea of writing this novel after the Lisbon earthquake in 1755. This idea was intensified when his host in the German Court resembled Thunder-ten-trouckh. He had a wife and a son. His son, the seventeen-year-old prince provided a model for the creation of the character of Candide. Voltaire yearned for religious and political freedom. He expresses this by satirizing religious, political and national fanaticism in Candide.