Secondary sources

Cronk, Nicholas. “Voltaire, Lord Hervey et le paradoxe du modèle anglais” Revue française. Numéro spécial. Numéro élèctronique: La culture des voyageurs à l’âge classique, regards, savoirs et discours. En ligne:


Voltaire Almighty: A Life in the Pursuit of Freedom by Roger Pearson. Published in 2005 by Bloomsbury. Reviewed by Johnson Kent Wright


Raymond Birn, La Censure royale des livres dans la France des Lumières. Paris: Odile Jacob, 2007. 179 pp. Notes. 26 € (pb).  ISBN 978-2-7381-1851-6. Review by Geoffrey Turnovsky, University of Washington. Published in H-France Review Vol. 8 (June 2008), No. 79


On the Road with Candide (NYPL) Not exactly a secondary source – rather an online project / collaboration of text, images, podcasts, etc… of various experts and readers who are invited to contribute analytical thoughts to the project celebrating the 250th anniversary of Candide.


Lumières et histoire: Voltaire et la théologie Chrétienne de l’histoire par Maria das Graças S. Nascimento. (An examination of Voltaire’s historical works and historiography).


Book summary: Cambridge companion to Voltaire ed. by Nicholas Cronk, 2009.

“The making of a name : a life of Voltaire” by Geoffrey Turnovsky focuses on Voltaire’s notions of what it meant to be an intellectual and philosophe in 18th c. France and how he conceived of that role in society. Voltaire truly believed that philosophers ought to have a place (which was earned) in public life and for him, this took the form of a position of significance in the government. The essay also discussed Voltaire’s particular desire to be part of an elite society of aristocrats and rulers. Voltaire does this first through making a reputation for himself as a playwright and poet, and Turnovsky shows how through writing a national epic (ironically mostly written while in prison in the Bastille), Voltaire gained access to the French court as Royal Historiographer. One would have thought that this position would have endeared him to the King, but instead Voltaire sensed that he was rather marginal and did not enjoy his position at court.  During his stay at Versailles, Frederick, crown prince of Prussia wrote to him expressing interest in Voltaire’s philosophies and anti-clerical irreverence. As this relationship developed, Voltaire finally experienced what he had been seeking; he was a trusted confidant and advisor to royalty; however, not in his own country. He left Versailles in 1748.

Nicholas Cronk in “Voltaire and authorship” writes about censorship and piracy, among other things. In the 18th century, an author was unlikely to make any money from his works other than in their first editions. So, piracy for most authors, was a concern. For Voltaire, who did not require the income from later editions of his works, the lack of revenue was not much of an issue, but the lack of control over how his works were printed and circulated was more pressing. He developed methods for ensuring that pirated editions were not released until he was ready, and he had a system of constant revisions of his many texts to ensure that as many authorized copies were in circulation as possible. This incredibly wide circulation of his texts was useful in not only building readership and influencing the public, but also in defeating or at least defending his works from fairly consistent censorship. Many editions and copies circulating illegally was useful from the point of view of pre-testing public reaction (and government reaction?) to his manuscripts so that he could try to avoid official reprimand and censorship would be utterly ineffective if there were so many copies in circulation that it was impossible to destroy them all. For more interesting reading about Voltaire’s relationships with his publishers, I highly recommend this chapter.

In “Voltaire: philosopher or philosophe?” David Beeson and Nicholas Cronk discuss at length Voltaire’s early philosophical formation; his application to questions of deism, his techniques for critiquing French society, his thoughts regarding Descartes and Newton, and his scientific experimentation with Mme. Du Châtelet. Beeson and Cronk credit Voltaire with an early and earnest investigation of philosophy and science. It was sobering in a way, since so much of what Voltaire did was over the top – effective, but over the top. Generally writers have focused on Voltaire’s relentless energy in public relations, his effusive letter-writing and political campaigning but Beeson and Cronk ground this later career in a serious foundation devoted to intellectual effort and reflection.



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