I picked up a selected writings of Voltaire at the Dunedin Library book sale. The book is sort of a hodgepodge of stuff “not Candide.”
I cannot say I’ve enjoyed it so much. What is the value in Voltaire these days? Is his value as much for his image – the rebellious, bohemian, intellectual laying some kind of groundwork for liberty or revolution? – as for his actual output. I am excluding Candide here and that slim book alone might be enough to justify all sorts of deserved literary fame.
The first bit contains some letters written to friends in England and you read them, thinking, these are like a lot of other letters from the period. Better written and more interesting than a modern email, yes, but is it really that special? And where is Voltaire’s famed, biting wit? Later came some bite, which felt more like disrespect and some cultural criticism too timely to mean much anymore.
I have been left with an image of Voltaire as more of a p—k than anything else. I need to pick up some Kant or Rousseau or Montesqueiu or someone else like that to rekindle my affection for the enlightenment.