The latest volume in Voltaire’s complete works covers a disparate handful of texts relating to the period between 1738 and 1742: the well-known narrative Micromégas, the comedy La Prude, ou, L’homme à franc procédé, a curious work entitled Le Préservatif, ou, Critique des ‘Observations sur les écrits modernes’, and an anonymous Conseils à Monsieur Racine sur son poème de ‘La Religion’, as well as a brief ‘Prologue’ added to La Prude in 1747. As Russell Goulbourne’s helpful and readable preface to the volume reminds us, this period sees Voltaire struggling between, and attempting to reconcile, different intellectual interests and aspirations. Goulbourne stresses throughout the ‘creative tension’ for Voltaire between what he alludes to as ‘the lyre and the compass’, the poetic and the scientific (p. xix). This tension, which serves as a guiding thread for the volume, is most apparent in Micromégas. Flouting both the modern convention of grouping Micromégas as a ‘conte philosophique’ and Voltaire’s own original intentions to have it published as a scientific piece, the editors explicitly present it as an unclassifiable ‘scientific-cum-philosophical work’ (p. 42), and indeed ‘an idiosyncratic and hybrid one’ (p. 25). As they demonstrate, the work knowingly places itself into the satirical tradition of Lucian, Rabelais, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Swift even as it engages deftly with scientific thinkers from Bruno and Kepler to Huygens and Fontenelle. Nicholas Cronk and J. B. Shank’s Introduction to the tale also alerts us to another concern that unites, perhaps even more directly than the lyre and the compass, the four works edited here. This volume shows us Voltaire engaging in different critical and creative ways with the works of others, in a manner we might perhaps associate more readily with Diderot. Le Préservatif, a painstaking demolition of the abbé Desfontaines’s Observations sur les écrits modernes, and the Conseils, a critique of Louis Racine’s religious poetry, show Voltaire adopting different modes of intellectual polemic, and these works’ Introductions (by François Moureau and David Williams) offer much-needed contextual information about the debates. The comedy La Prude, ou, L’homme à franc procédé, on the other hand, is — as its subtitle suggests — a loose adaptation of William Wycherley’s 1676 comic masterpiece The Plain Dealer, itself an even looser adaptation of Molière’s Le Misanthrope. Thomas Wynn’s excellent Introduction and notes trace the intertextual relationship between Voltaire’s text and Wycherley’s original, a play that Voltaire simultaneously lauds as ‘la meilleure comédie anglaise’ (p. 116) and yet subjects to some quite considerable revisions, corrections, and improvements. Appropriately, Wynn’s Introduction goes back further than Wycherley, bringing La Prude back across the English Channel to its intertextual roots in Molière — Le Misanthrope, of course, but also Tartuffe, whose titular anti-hero provides a template of sorts for Voltaire’s affected prude Dorfise. While the play’s Introduction, typically of the volume, stresses the creative use of scientific vocabulary, ideas, and tropes that surface throughout the material, what this volume demonstrates still more clearly is Voltaire’s capacity to flourish — creatively, critically, and even parasitically — by feeding off the works of others. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jul 1, 2018
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