Voltaire Biography

(French Historian and Philosopher Known for His Wit and His Pointed Social Critique)

Birthday: November 21, 1694 (Scorpio)

Born In: Paris, France

Francois Arouet, better known by his pen name Voltaire, was a literary genius whose brilliant writings often caused extreme controversy during his time. His prolific writings often attacked popular philosophical or religious beliefs. Many of his works were critical of political institutions resulting in his prosecution, including jail and exile. His works often evoked similar reactions from the masses who, on more than one occasion in more than one city, have burnt and destroyed his books. His extreme criticism earned him numerous enemies. He criticized his government as being ineffective, the common people as ignorant, the church as static, and the aristocracy as corrupt and parasitic. He became personal enemies with the Roman Catholic Church, the French Government, the Bible and the general masses. Despite this, he was far ahead of the times in his crusade for civil rights. He proclaimed the importance of freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial, the separation of church and state, and the freedom of speech. He produced writing in nearly every form including over 21,000 letters, 2,000 books and pamphlets, novels, essays, poetry, plays, historical works, and even scientific experimental works. Despite a life full of controversy, today he considered one of history’s greatest writers and philosophers

Quick Facts

French Celebrities Born In November

Also Known As: François-Marie Arouet

Died At Age: 83


Spouse/Ex-: Émilie du Châtelet

father: François Arouet

mother: Marie Marguerite d'Aumart

Born Country: France

Quotes By Voltaire Writers

Died on: May 30, 1778

place of death: Paris, France

Notable Alumni: Lycée Louis-le-Grand

City: Paris

More Facts

education: Lycée Louis-le-Grand

Childhood & Early Life
Voltaire was born as Francois Marie Arouet in Paris on November 21, 1694. His father was a notary providing him with a comfortable middle-class upbringing. The family benefited from political favor during Louis XIV’s reign as King.
His mother unfortunately passed away when he was only seven years old. This event caused him to rebel against his father and older siblings. The rebellious kid found refuge with his godfather Abbe Chateauneuf, who was a freethinker.
He received a first-class education at ‘Louis-le-Grand’, a Jesuit college in Paris and found a passion for literature. He aspired to become a playwright but his father strongly opposed the notion and instead pushed him to become a public authority figure.
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His early career was dictated by his father’s wishes. After completing his education, his father first sent him to work as a notary assistant in Paris but he actually spent most of his time writing satirical poetry.
Voltaire’s father realized he was not devoting himself to working as a legal assistant and instead found him employment as the secretary of the French ambassador who was stationed in the Netherlands. He fell in love with Catherine Dunoyer, a French refugee, and fearing scandal both the French ambassador and Voltaire’s own father forced him to return to Paris.
In 1717 he published a satire of the French government which mocked the Duke of Orleans. As a result he was not only banished from Parish but also imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months. While in prison he wrote his debut play ‘Oedipe’.
In 1726 after again clashing with nobility he was exiled without trial to England. During his three year exile he studied John Locke, Newton, and the British government.
Upon his return to Paris, he gained financial independence when he gained access to inheritance from his father. This money freed him from needing to please political patrons to make a living.
In 1734 he published ‘Philosophical Letters on the English’. These essays defended the British system but were met with extreme opposition in Paris. Book burnings were held over the writings and eventually he was forced to flee the city.
During his exile from 1734 to 1749 he spent most of his time studying and performing natural science experiments with Marquise Émilie du Châtelet. He continued his writing and often collaborated with her. He expanded his writing to include more philosophical and metaphysical subjects.
In 1749, Marquise passed away and Voltaire traveled to Potsdam. During his time here he attacked the president of the ‘Berlin Academy of Science’ and was again the subject of serious book burnings. He fled the city to avoid arrest and Louis XV banned him from returning to Paris. He continued moving and eventually settled in Ferney near Switzerland.
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Major Works
In 1717 he wrote his famous ‘Oedipe’ while in prison. This amazing work established his reputation and established his pen name Voltaire. The work was published upon his release from jail a year later and was a rewrite of an ancient tragedy. This play became famous so quickly that it was first performed at the home of the ‘Duchesse du Maine’ at Sceaux.
Awards & Achievements
In 1746, he was voted into the ‘Academie Francaise’ for his publications. He collected and studied over 21,000 books during his second exile from Paris and called for the separation of church and state after studying religion more seriously.
Personal Life & Legacy
During his second exile from Paris he lived with Marquise Florent-Claude du Châtelet. While living with him he had a 15 year affair with his wife, Marquise Émilie du Châtelet. Unfortunately she passed away during childbirth and it is unclear whether the child was her husbands or Voltaire’s.
He lived in Ferney for the last 20 years of his life. The town has since renamed itself “Ferney-Voltaire” and has changed his residency into a museum.
The National Library of Russia, Saint Petersburg is home to the vast and precious collection of this avid reader.
He passed away on May 30, 1778. Due to his criticism of the church they denied him burial in the church ground.
In 1791 his remains were moved to the Pantheon in Paris from his cremation ground in Champagne.
The heart and brain of this famous writer have been removed from his body. His heart is in the ‘Bibliotheque Nationale’ in Paris and his brain has since been lost after being auctioned off
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