Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants

Title

Voltaire, Dictionaries, and the Questions sur l'Encyclopedie

Department

Modern Languages & Literatures

College

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range

2010-2011

Abstract

Today Voltaire (1694-1778) is best known for his masterpiece, "Candide", an exemplar of the genre he created, the "philosophical tale". For his contemporaries, however, Voltaire was the greatest poet and playwright of the century. Ironically, Voltaire considered "Candide" a mere trifle, while today no one except a few scholars knows his poetry, and his plays are no longer performed. In addition to philosophical tales, theatre, and poetry, during the last third of his long life Voltaire consistently worked in one other genre: dictionaries. He contributed to both the Dictionnaire de l'Academie francaise (1762 4th ed.) and the great Encyclopedie (1751-1772); his Dictionnaire philosophique, banned by the French Monarchy and placed on the Pope's Index of forbidden books, was a sensational best-seller; and his Questions sur l'Encyclopedie (1770-72) were in fact his longest work. My paper focuses on the Questions sur l'Encyclopedie, which are relatively little known. Indeed, no new edition in its own right has appeared in over two hundred years...until now. I propose to examine the new seven-volume edition in progress from Oxford University Press and the Voltaire Foundation. The question I put to the "Questions" as whether they may be considered Voltaire's magnum opus.

Conference Name

Southeastern American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Conference Location

Wake Forest Univ., Winston-Salem, NC



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