“Davidson . . . has taken on the story of the last Voltaire. . . . In 1753, at the beginning of Davidson’s story, Voltaire was, in contemporary terms, like Michael Moore and Susan Sontag all mixed up: a provocateur who was also a universal literary celebrity. By the end, he was more like a cross between Andrei Sakharov amd Mr. Toad of Toad Halla conceited grand bourgeois with a big house who was also one of the first dissidents, embodying a whole alternative set of values, and who came to be treated even by the government almost as an independent state within a state. How this came about, and without any Tolstoyan repentance or self-remaking, is one of the great stories of literary evolution. Davidson tells it well.” Adam Gopnik, New Yorker
Voltaire in Exile
The Last Years, 1753-78
978-0-8021-4236-8 • $14.00 • Paperback • Feb. 2006
A riveting portrait of the brilliant last years in the life of Voltaire, the man Diderot described as “the unique man of the century”
In 1753, Voltaireplaywright, poet, philosopher, and one of the most fêted figures in Europewas forced by Louis XV into exile, where he remained for the last twenty-five years of his life. These years heralded a startling new beginning for this remarkable man. Voltaire carved out a new and vibrant world in his isolation, becoming a successful entrepreneur, writing his masterpiece Candide, and lavishing upon those around him the finer things in life. And it was as a figure cast out by the establishment that Voltaire began to develop his astonishingly modern ideas of human rights and social equality, borne out in his campaigns against a series of miscarriages of justice.
In Voltaire in Exile, Ian Davidson re-creates this period in the life of one of the giants of the Enlightenment. By painstakingly translating the rich correspondence between Voltaire and his family, members of the Court at Versailles, and the French intellectual elite, Davidson allows us to discover Voltaire the artist, the campaigner, the aesthete, the lover, the humorist. The result is a wonderfully vivid portrait of this extraordinarily funny, iconoclastic, complex, and, above all, ferociously intelligent individual.